Cuba: Turning Peanuts into a Thriving Small Business

By Alejandro Ulloa  (Progreso Weekly)

Packs of Bormey Peanuts

HAVANA TIMES — “What I have done is to start the business, use professional tools and take advantage of the opportunities presented by ‘the opening’ and the institutions, in order to develop an enterprise,” explains Orelvis Bormey Torres.

An industrial engineer with a Master’s degree, Orelvis a man just over 30, has created a brand (by now well known) and a prosperous business in Santa Clara, using peanuts as the basic product.

Orelvis Bormey Torres says 300 clients show up daily at the Bormey House of Peanuts.

About 300 customers show up daily at the “Bormey House of Peanuts,” where he sells 21 types of turrones [nougat, fudge], five varieties of panetelas [a form of pound cake] and about 10 varieties of snacks [small bags of peanuts.) Ten years ago, that was unthinkable.

“I always saw my grandparents and my father growing peanuts in Quemado de Güines, where I was born,” he says. “They also processed them into nougat.”

After his second year at the Las Villas Central University (UCLV), Orelvis turned that family tradition into a source of income. Two years later, in 2004, he himself began to make turrones.

Orelvis Bormey Torres

For about eight years, he worked with only one kind of dough and a single style of nougat. After he opened his House of Peanuts in December 2012, he worked with four kinds of dough (with sugar, without sugar, with honey and in Alicante style) and nearly 10 varieties of products.

[Translator’s Note: Turrones originated in the Spanish region of Alicante in the 15th Century.]

“After I graduated, I kept raising peanuts, even though I was working for the State. I made the bars and took them once a week to the homes of clients I knew. My clientele later expanded. Of course, I never announced that I was selling peanuts because at the time no licenses were issued [to entrepreneurs]. Selling turrones was illegal, even though the sugar came from the store and the peanuts from my father’s farm.”

While selling turrones “on the sly,” between 2005 and 2012, the young engineer was the head of the purchasing department at the university where he studied and supervised product quality and human resources in companies like Caracol, a construction firm in Caibarién, and the Villa Clara Graphics Enterprise. The seven years of experience he acquired he now utilizes for his own business.

“I devoted the entire year of 2013 to putting together the manufacture and sale of the products that distinguish and represent my brand. For the rest of 2014 and the coming years, I will organize the procurement of raw materials. I didn’t ignore this aspect of the business but first I needed to set up a portfolio of products with stability, with a consolidated image.”

The Bormey House of Peanuts

It all started with the brand. “I always liked the way my father signed his name and — beyond the Bormey family pride — I tried to mollify the old man, who didn’t want me to quit my job. I asked him to sign his name, we designed the logo, and I went to Havana to register the brand at the Cuban Trademarks Office (OCPI). At that time, I owed about 20,000 or 25,000 pesos.” [over $1,000 USD]

The Bormey House of Peanuts

By December 2012, the business had become serious enough for Orelvis to launch his House of Peanuts, which today has eight salaried workers (five factory workers and three salespeople) and retains the services of a designer and an attorney and has contractual relations with several state-owned companies.

After opening “the little house,” the Bormeys began to label each product in a different fashion, according to the rules.

“We followed the procedures dictated by the Public Health Dept. for the handling of foodstuffs, the recommendations of the Food Industries Department and had the advice of the UCLV’s School of Agriculture regarding the grain that we buy. Their latest suggestion was that we should say on our labels that our products have no food preservatives.”

“We have been going ahead without finding any problems, without plans for improvement, but considering where the deficiencies are and taking steps to eliminate them.”

The price structure of Bormey Peanuts is very local. “We are in Villa Clara, whose prices do not compare with those in Havana. That’s why we set them using the production cost and adding a profit margin that results in a sales price — in national pesos [CUP] — that is accessible to our clients. Comparatively speaking, our prices are above the average for Santa Clara.”

An entrepreneurial vision

Fifteen months after the factory started operations, the labels that once said “Made by Orelvis Bormey” now say “Made by the Bormey Group.” To Orelvis, to keep his business going, he needs two basic premises: a good relationship with his workers and with the state-owned institutions, companies and suppliers.

A peanut cake for 50 pesos.

“We are not a cooperative or a state-run business, but we’re not just Orelvis. We are a group of people intent on transforming the image of the Cuban peanut, from a paper cucurucho [funnel] to a portfolio of products. That way, each worker receives the credit he or she deserves and feels more committed” to the job.

Referring to the company’s expansion, “something that opened the doors for us was the creation of an account at the Bank of Credit and Services of Santa Clara,” he says. This enabled the firm to sign contracts with state-run companies that print the labels, promotions and bags or sell cups, cake boxes and storage labels.

Last year, the Chamber of Commerce invited the Bormey House of Peanuts to participate in the Havana International Fair (FIHAV-2013).

To Orelvis and his group of peanut vendors (who do not sell peanut bags on the street), it is vital to have a good chain of suppliers. “They are the main link to minimize costs,” he says.

Some people buy peanuts from the farmers, store it and then, after the harvest is over, sell it at a price higher than normal. Bromey does not always buy from intermediaries but does depend on them for part of the year. He has invested about 10,000 CUP [$500] in storage containers alone.

“In order to maintain the quality of the product, improve its presentation and maintain its variety to reach the most buyers, we need to organize the flow of raw materials. I have to deal with the farmers to shorten the [production] chain, and increase their profits and mine. Not to mention the intermediaries, who are necessary.”

Doing business

The Bormey Peanut flyer.

“I turned to peanuts because you can process them and preserve them without the need for special conditions. Also, the potential for its cultivation in Cuba is great, because of the propitious climate, the type of earth, the availability of seeds and professional support, because [peanut farming] can eliminate imports and generate jobs.”

Everything has to work just right, starting from the furrows. “A good harvest means that, once the peanuts have been extracted, they’re left to dry on the field, then harvested, separated from the plant, sun dried to remove the moisture and kill any fungus, and stored away. When ready to process, a machine shells them, removes the skin, blows it away. Then I grind them and mix them with sugar. I do this by myself, because the uniqueness of the Bormey products depends on that.”

Orelvis has been doing this in the same supply house for the past 10 years. “My supplier has two mills, one for the peanuts, the other for the sugar, and a mixer that other manufacturers use. But I give him the most business. So, once a week I process the peanuts we’re going to use.”

We asked: Wouldn’t it be better to own those machines and not depend on anyone?

“No. The machines are not expensive but I would have to find a space for them, transportation for the peanuts, and all that to use [the mills] once a week. Where I do it now, it’s strategic for me. The man has a license and guarantees the necessary hygienic conditions. His capacity for processing suits my needs. It works and I don’t have to start a cooperative or change my routine.”

Later, in another supply house, there is space for the storage of dough and the manufacture of the turrones, ice cream, panetelas and other products.

“Now that we’re in the business, we’re going to use the tools we learned in our training and our own experience to keep making a quality product that is recognized by our clientele. We are proud of our product and our brand.”

11 thoughts on “Cuba: Turning Peanuts into a Thriving Small Business

  • First of all, Cubans do not turn out to vote in the numbers presented by the Castro regime. Second, if they choose to stay home, the CDR representative will knock on their door to ‘remind’ them to vote. Third, Cubans know if they write in a candidate of deface a ballot, the only thing that will change is a new slate of candidates, equally bad, will take their place. Voting in Cuba is such a non-event that most Cubans who do vote simply go through the motions. They know the outcome has already been predestined so why fuss? Your comments are straight from the Castro playbook. You have never been to Cuba and you don’t know any Cubans. It’s that obvious.

  • In every Cuban election any voter can :
    1) stay home
    2) deface their (secret) ballot
    3) write in Obama or Moses
    4) vote for the candidates whom they nominated
    90-95% of all eligible Cuban voters turn out in every election and 95% of them cast their votes for people they have nominated .
    No more than 5% of the ballots are ever handled in the first three ways I listed above.
    The Cubans people are unhappy with the effects of the U.S. war on their lives but unlike, you do not blame their government for the bulk of their problems and will stick with their government rather than change horses in mid-stream.
    This phenomenon is echoed by the U.S. electorate in keeping uber-dunce G.W. Bush on as president while the Iraq Invasion was ongoing. and the reelection of FDR during WWII .
    Were there dissent as widespread as your fantasies would have them, the number of defaced or blank ballots or the numbers of those not voting would be very much higher.
    OTOH, in the USA only about 50% of the eligible voters cast a presidential election years and a far lower number vote in the off-year elections.

  • “the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people support their government”. You obviously have never been to Cuba.

  • Moses,
    Cut the bullshit.
    You know as well as I that the aim of the U.S. AS IT HAS BEEN FOR 100 YEARS -is to prevent the rise of socialism/communism -because of the bottom -up democratic nature of a socialist/communist workplace.
    You and I have been back and forth on your thought that the U.S. was and is all about establishing democracies.
    The one case you came up with out of some 75 U.S. interventions on the PUBLIC RECORD alone was Myanmar .
    The Cuban people decided back in 1959 what they did not want and got rid of it and tried to establish what they wanted but the U.S. does not allow that so they slapped the embargo on the island after an invasion failed.
    They would not care if Adolph Hitler were at the head of the Cuban government , as long as he ran a capitalist economy. That IS the U.S. foreign policy history and not your risible fantasy of building democracies.
    You have neither the grace nor the intellectual principle to admit that you’re ignorant of factual history and are repeating this same lie to your own intellectual discredit .
    It remains a secret only to you that the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people support their government IF ONLY because their government is seen as defending them from an existential threat.
    It is no different than the devotion the U.S. population feels for the government and the military who are seen as protecting them from the “Global Terrorist Threat” .
    What is different is that the GWT is a fraud and the U.S. threat to Cuba is very real.

  • I too have had a nice successful run in the business world.
    It wasn’t easy and let me put it this way, I couldn’t do the things I did 35 years ago today and stay in business today. The
    other point is that this article is food related and having family in that business in NYC you wouldn’t believe the tactics the city related agencies do to regulate and fine establishments like ours. Here’s a story- Years ago, there was an Italian immigrant a block from where I lived who made, to this day, the best pizza ever. The freshest ingredients and his sauce was incredible. I absolutely guarantee that today he’d be shut down before the sun sets for keeping his cheese and sauce out in the open. No joke! It’s regulations that are killing entrepreneurs and oddly enough, this man with his peanut venture is doing quite well in the most unlikely country. Good for him and hopefully more will follow. We’re on the same page with regards to free enterprise and opportunities Moses.

  • I co-founded a Silicon Valley start-up that grew from the original four employees to 250 people in less than 8 years when we were bought out. I know what it takes to start a business in the most business UN-friendly states in the US….California!

  • Moses, starting a business in the USA isn’t as easy as you might think.
    It takes a bit of money for insurance, lawyers, build outs and most of
    all REGULATIONS! God forbid you have the health inspectors on your
    tail, if it’s food related…I’ve been on that end. This is a great story and hopefully, will only get bigger and better!

  • There is a difference between ‘the Castros’ and ‘Cubans’. The US embargo is intended to remove ‘the Castros’ from power so that ‘Cubans’ can decide for themselves what form of governance best suits their needs. And yes, by all means, change your soiled underwear.

    The CASTROS.
    How frightening.
    I’ll now have to go change my soiled underwear.
    Do please read the last sentence in your post.
    I often ask you to just let the Cubans rise or fall of their own merits or faults but the embargo is just something you can’t let go of.
    EVERYONE in Cuba would be better off absent the U.S. hostilities of the past 50 years or so and the situation today would be far better than it is for all Cubans since they all share their country’s potential wealth as well as its U.S. embargo-induced poverty. .
    The guy should try that peanut enlargement treatment they advertise all over the internet and increase his enjoyment.

  • Considering the extraordinarily accomplishments of so many Cubans in America, it’s nothing less than tragic that the Castro regime has criminalized self initiative and entrepreneurship for so many years.

    Good luck to Orelvis and his peanut business. He deserves every success and the rewards of his hard work.

  • With a few differences, this small business story is repeated thousands of times a day by small businesses in the US. The few differences are marked mostly by the fact that this story takes place in Cuba. This is basic capitalism and is the foundation of what has created the largest and most powerful economy in the world. But for the Castros intent to adhere to failed socialist principles, many other Cubans would likely have similar small business stories to tell and many more Cubans would likely be earning a dignified living wage instead of being dependent upon the receipt of family remittances from abroad or engaged in a daily struggle to “resolve”. This small business is an excellent example of what Cubans can achieve if left to succeed or fail by their own efforts.

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