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Cataño-based Able Sales poised to increase exports by 30% in ’19

Able Sales, a Puerto Rican distributor of sweetener products under the brand name “Dulce Caña,” is laying down the strategies to increase its export activity by 30 percent in 2019, when it will also add several new products to its portfolio.

During a news conference in San Juan, Able Sales President Luis Silva unveiled the company’s new line of breakfast products — including a variety of pancake and waffle syrup, as well as flour —manufactured in Puerto Rico, in partnership with Molinos de Puerto Rico and Altura Foods in Ciales.

“The pancake flour line is the first of its kind made in Puerto Rico. Our plan is to continue strengthening the brand and continue developing new products,” said Aurora Santín, marketing manager for Able Sales.

But the most critical component of the company’s strategy is increasing exports to U.S. mainland markets with high concentrations of Puerto Rican residents, and the neighboring Caribbean Islands, they said.

The company marked its 45th anniversary in 2017, when it also began looking for opportunities outside Puerto Rico. Able Sales conducted its first successful shipment to several islands in the Caribbean just before Hurricane María hit in September 2017, said Santín.

The company had also sent its first shipment to Orlando-area retail chains, but the hurricane halted further export activities for about one or two months, she said.

In early 2018, Able Sales revisited its export plans, delivering its Dulce Caña line of sweeteners to Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, with an average monthly volume of between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of sugar.

The products have seen a sustained increase since making their U.S. mainland-market debut, Santín said, adding, “we began with one or two containers. But we’ll be shipping six containers to New York in the next two months.”

Able Sales’ Dulce Caña products are being sold at Supermercados Presidente, Bravo and Sedanos grocery stores in Florida, and will soon be on Shop Rite shelves in New York, where six-pound pouches of brown sugar will be sold, executives confirmed.

Two containers of Dulce Caña sugar will be shipped to Supermercados Presidente in January, Santín said.

“Exporting is critical because Puerto Rico’s population is declining, and we have to find other markets to be able to keep the necessary volumes to be efficient and competitive,” Silva said. “In Puerto Rico, Dulce Caña already commands a market leadership position, now we want to reach all of those Puerto Ricans in the United States that are looking for the brand.”

Based in Cataño, Able Sales employs 125 people and generates an unspecified number of indirect and induced jobs through its manufacturing and distribution chain. The company generates about $108 million in annual sales.

“The idea is that exporting and adding new products will help compensate for the areas in which we’re stagnant. Reinventing ourselves is a must,” Silva said, adding Able Sales is not participating in the exports incentives available through Act 20, because off-island sales are still a small percentage of the company’s revenue.

In 2019, Able Sales will be launching at least three new products, including a stevia-based sweetener. The company works with food technicians at Altura Foods to develop product formulas and with the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, where product quality is validated, Santín said.

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