Felicia Ramos Martínez has worked at the plant for 34 years. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Among the company's best known and most sought-after products are fruit sauces, candies, and preserves, prepared at the state enterprise unit (UEB) La Conchita, located in the western province of Pinar del Río and designed to process more than 12,000 tons of fruit annually.

The plant was founded in 1937, occupying several houses on 20 de mayo Street and Antonio Rubio Avenue in the provincial capital, and is named after the mother of one of the proprietors, Concepción Martínez, known as Conchita. Its first product was guava paste, a popular snack for school children.

By 1942, there were already 150 workers employed in shifts of up to 12 hours a day. Imported technology was added, and warehouses expanded.

The plant was later re-located to an area seven kilometers out of town, off the Central Highway, where it has remained to date. Two more bays were constructed, along with tanks to store 65,000 gallons of diesel and 1,400 of gasoline, as well as an office and sanitary services.

With the triumph of the Revolution, conditions changed dramatically. On October 14, 1960, the plant was nationalized and technological advances continued, including the installation of a thermal shaping machine for fruit paste in the 1980s, a juice and concentrate line in 2000, and a sterile packaging unit the following year.

Today a broad range of items are produced for the domestic market, the tourist industry, and export.

Currently employed at the plant are 500 workers, 325 linked directly to production, and the facility consists of four production areas, a maintenance shop, warehouses, an administration building, and a motor vehicle workshop.

Photo: Nuria Barbosa

The enterprise unit is affiliated with the National Vegetable Preserves Enterprise which is part of the Food Processing Industry Group (GEIA), created as part of the reorganization of the Cuban economy over this past decade.

Its director, Fara María Pérez Hernández, speaking with Granma International, listed the many items produced at La Conchita: jellies, canned papaya pieces, grapefruit preserves, guava paste - with which the plant is most identified - sliced mango, juices, and creamed fruits, as well as a variety of tomato-based sauces, plus mayonnaise in different sized packaging.

Describing the company's plans for 2017, Pérez, also an engineer, stated, "We have started the first half of the year with good productive results, surpassing projections for the vegetable season. We made plans to process 14,000 tons of tomato, and today we have reached 15,300, which bodes well for meeting the annual production goal. We have contracted enough raw material (fruit and vegetables) to work through January of 2018."

This year, an investment is being made to address the treatment of residual waste, and scheduled general maintenance on different production lines will be completed. Two lines were repaired in 2016, and modernization of another two is continuing this year, which has contributed to improving working conditions.

Much of this work has been possible because the company is presented in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment's portfolio of opportunities. A list of products available for export was prepared to meet the needs of clients abroad.

La Conchita is interested in negotiating with foreign investors to improve technology at the plant and increase production, Pérez said.

She stated that the company's greatest strength lies in its employees, who have a strong sense of ownership, and tend to stay at the plant, many with more than 10 years on the job, adding, "Workers fall in love with the productive process, with the results, and make an effort to fulfill their commitments."

Agreeing with her is Felicia Ramos Martínez, who has worked at the plant for 34 years, currently on the line producing fruit in syrup and vegetable preserves. She recalls that she arrived in the 1980s, when her husband was awarded a house in the neighboring community.

Fela, as she is affectionately called, explained, "I get to the plant before six in the morning, and prepare the working conditions to receive the staff. Then I place them in each of the activities to be completed that day, with the help of the area manager. I also distribute tools and protective gear. When a worker is absent, I take their place so that production is not affected. The workday ends with cleaning the area and turning it over to the next shift."

She notes that the jobs requiring the most skill involve the bottling, labeling, and wrapping equipment.

"The workers follow me, because I take on the work with lots of energy. I'm the union leader in my area, with more than 170 members, including 66 retired. I complete my trade union activities by collecting dues and providing direct attention to the workers in solving their problems at work," Fela reported.

She added that she has taken several courses and trainings to gain skill in the operation of equipment and is proud to report that she has produced more than 1,000 cans in a single day.

She has been recognized with certificates and distinctions for these accomplishments, including the Pedro Marrero medal, awarded by the sector union, and has participated in national congresses and events.

Another exemplary staff member is the young university graduate Yudith Montes Evora, who began working at La Conchita after finishing secondary school. She was motivated to study Law in an adult education program, completing her studies in 2013, and is now a specialist in the Human Resources Department at the plant.

Montes explains that there are two routes to being hired at La Conchita, one is through the convocations made periodically in the community, and another is via placement of secondary and university graduates who have completed studies relevant to the industry.

New hires complete a two year training period, following a plan to learn how to function in all of the plant's productive areas, before being assigned to a specific task.

"It's very positive for everyone to work here," Montes explained, "given the possibility for professional development, and because our salaries are linked to production. The more we produce, the more we earn. Plus events are held to share technical experiences; I'm thinking about the Science and Technique Forums, and the Youth Technical Brigades.

"In both movements, knowledge is developed in order to find solutions to productive obstacles. The proposals are written up and presented to different industries, to be shared with other similar institutions," she reported.

Agreeing with Yudith Montes is Germán Rodríguez López, a retired worker who is proud to have worked at the plant for 30 years. He is invited to all celebrations and remains a member of the union, participating in scientific events and assemblies, because his opinion is still valued.

He recounts that his house was built by workers at the plant, in a nearby community, for which he is profoundly grateful to La Conchita and the Revolution, concluding, "We all feel like a true family."