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I’ve never been to Asia. Consequently, when I had the opportunity to take advantage of an offer by the Thailand Board of Investment to tour various food manufacturing facilities, including the Jelly Belly Candy Co. plant in Rayong, Thailand, I didn’t hesitate.
And while some of my editorial colleagues believed I was just going for the food and sightseeing (both of which were fantastic, I have to admit), the media tour encompassed much more than fun and games.
First, it’s important to point out that Thailand suffered a devastating natural disaster with the onset of Tropical Storm Noct-ten, which precipitated flooding in the northern and central parts of Thailand that eventually reached Bangkok.
Statistics involving the calamity are hard to fathom: 815 people dead; 65 of Thailand’s 77 provinces were declared flood disaster zones; 7,700 sq. miles of farmland damaged; $45.7 billion in damages and losses.
In terms of economic impact, the World Bank ranked the flooding in Thailand as the fourth costliest modern natural disaster, trailing only the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 1995 Kobe earthquake and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Originally planned for October, the media tour was rescheduled for mid-January as a result of the flood. The agenda, in turn, was revamped to show how Thailand was coping with the recovery.
Upon arriving in Bangkok late Sunday evening (it took me a full 26 hours of travel, by the way, upon leaving my home in Chicago on Saturday morning and flying a combination of 20-plus hours to arrive at the hotel in Bangkok), I tried to overcome the jet lag and 13-hour time difference as best as I could.
Our early morning start (7 a.m.) enabled us to get onto our customized mini-vans (pimped out to the max, mind you) and visit Western Digital, a manufacturer of hard disk storage drives and one of the major companies hit by the flood.
President John Coyne gave the group a dramatic update on how the flood affected Western Digital, which has a large manufacturing facility in Bangkok. It was amazing to see the watermark (6.5 feet) and the efforts employees put in to get the plant back on its feet and operational.
The next day, we all attended the CEO Forum, which was highlighted by a keynote speech from former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was clear after listening to Blair and several Thailand government ministers and executives that despite the disaster, the government is committed to preventing a similar occurrence by repairing infrastructure (dikes and levees) and improving water management (reservoir monitoring).
It’s also clear that Thailand is poised and anxious to become a great economic force in Asia and in the world.
So what does this have to do with candy? Well, remember, part of my tour involved visiting the Jelly Belly Candy Co., which we had an opportunity to do so on Wed. afternoon.
Unfortunately, we ran a bit late, so we missed production on the mogul line. Nonetheless, Herm Rowland Jr. proved to be the perfect host (I expected nothing less, since he is a candy guy, after all!), answering all questions and taking us on a personal tour of the plant.
He also explained that thanks to his father’s foresight and strategic plan involving international growth, the company started the process of planning a facility in Thailand back in 2005 and started rolling out product in 2008. Successive double-digit gains in international sales and a third plant expansion several years later, it’s clear this investment is providing a handsome payback.
We’ll have an in-depth feature on the Jelly Belly’s Thailand facility detailing its operations and international business strategy in our March issue.
Although the Jelly Belly facility was the only confectionery operation I saw while in Thailand, there were plenty of other learnings gleaned from the trip that apply to businesses everywhere, learnings I’ll also share in next month’s issue.
But just a couple of quick tidbits from Thailand before we say goodbye to the day: It’s true, the Thai people are as happy, courteous and easy to be with as portrayed; two, Thai food is both wonderful and exotic, although it can be a bit spicy; and three, I love the traditional manner Thais greet guests, the wai (holding one’s hands together as if in prayer and bowing).
Sawasdee Krap (See you later in Thai).