A Hialeah sugar wholesaler called Banah boasts it has created a liquid sweetener so tasty that its bound to become a household brand. But first Banah needs to settle on a main competitor for the sticky concoction: Aunt Jemima or Starbucks?
Banahs liquid sugar straddles the line between sweetener and syrup, and marketing executives havent quite figured out which mode fits the product best.
When executives flew to Bentonville, Ark., to pitch their new line of natural flavored sweeteners to Wal-Mart buyers, they brought a toaster and frozen waffles to prove how they had improved upon standard syrup. But Wal-Mart opted to first test the sweetener as an option for homemade speciality coffees, with Banahs cane-sugar and vanilla flavors expected to be stocked alongside SweetN Low and Domino on the sugar shelves later this month.
They want to test how the consumers will react to it, said CEO Diego Leiva. Consumers are used to pouring syrup. The coffee drinkers will be more of a challenge.
Banahs bid for a coveted spot on grocery store shelves could add a new home-grown national brand for an area that already produces Pilon coffee, Burger King Whoppers and Badia mojo. It also would mark a milestone for a relatively young company founded by a man who 10 years ago was serving time on a drug-related charge.
Alexander I. Perez, the 48-year-old chairman of Banah International, pleaded guilty in 1999 to conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute after being accused of involvement in a drug-dealing operation. In 2003, Perez was sentenced to nearly six years in prison, according to federal court records, and his supervised probation ended in 2009.
Banah declined to make Perez available for an interview but released a statement that said in part: Yes, I have committed a very grave error in my past, for which my family and I have paid for with all the weight of the law. Now I have founded BANAH, which means, in Hebrew, new beginnings ...
Corporate publicity materials emphasize Perezs commitment to Biblical principles. A sign in the lobby signed by Perez notes, in English and Spanish: This firm loves and serves God above all things.
Banahs move into its 300,000-square-foot headquarters brought significant fanfare in Hialeah at the start of 2012. Miami-Dade County arranged roughly $400,000 in state and local incentives for the planned addition of almost 300 jobs over the next several years payroll additions dependent on the success of Banahs new retail sugar lines. The county also renamed a stretch of Southeast 10th Avenue Banah Sweet Way in honor of the company.
Since 2005, Banah has imported sugar from mills in Colombia, Paraguay, Brazil, Honduras, and other Latin American countries. The sugar is then packaged for wholesale exports abroad in a duty-free warehouse in Doral. With profit margins narrow in wholesale, Banah wanted to push for the higher mark-ups that come with selling sugar to consumers.
It already placed powdered sugar on Wal-Mart shelves during the 2011 holiday season, when a regular supplier fell short and Wal-Mart needed a replacement fast, Leiva said. Banah also has placed its granular sugar on shelves in Navarro and Sedanos stores, marketing director Miguel Ferro said.
But Banah sees liquid sugar as its ticket into the big leagues in a market already dominated by Domino and Florida Crystals. Both brands are owned by the West Palm Beach company, Florida Crystals Corp., which was founded by the Fanjul family after they abandoned their sugar plantations in Cuba in 1960.