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Giving back: Sheamali Wickramasingha

Sheamali Wickramasingha, Group Managing Director of Ceylon Biscuits Limited

If you were to ask anyone in Sri Lanka for the name of a biscuit brand, you’d be lucky to hear a name other than Munchee, the flagship brand of food manufacturer Ceylon Biscuits (CBL). After all, it’s Sri Lanka’s premier biscuit maker; Munchee has a 53% market share, with the remainder shared by more than 50 companies, while CBL’s chocolate brand Ritzbury occupies more than 60% of its market.

Sheamali Wickramasingha, Group Managing Director of Ceylon Biscuits Limited
Sheamali Wickramasingha, Group Managing Director of Ceylon Biscuits Limited

’Not taking success for granted’

Shea Wickramasingha, Group Managing Director of CBL, says the company’s impressive market share comes from avoiding complacency, and not taking CBL’s success for granted.

“The reason we see these kinds of numbers and achievement is that our company is constantly investing in technology and constantly innovating,” she says. “The group normally puts out at least 10 new products a year. It’s a continuous cycle of staying relevant in the market.”

This innovation has not gone without recognition. CBL has won countless industry awards for its quality, exporting standards, productivity, CSR and agricultural standards, to name just a few of the categories in which it has thrived. The company continues to receive these awards; last year, President Emeritus Mineka Wickramasingha received the Deshamanya (‘Pride of the Nation’) award, one of the highest national honours of Sri Lanka.

The shared surname is not a coincidence; Mineka is Shea’s father. CBL has been a family-run business ever since it was founded by Mineka’s father, Simon Arthur Wickramasingha, in 1939. In recent years, the company has been undergoing a restructure, so it operates like a corporate entity. Despite this, CBL retains the spirit of a family business.

Creating a sustainable corporate environment

“The board focuses on more strategic development areas,” says Shea, “but in saying that, I believe one of the main differences between our company and some others is that we are still very close to our core business. Our business is not only about P&L and balance sheets. It’s about growing a sustainable relevant business, one that is focused on customers needs in a changing landscape.”

CBL grants its senior management team responsibility and accountability. The strength of understanding the core business coupled with strong leadership and passionate team members, has created a corporate environment where we see innovation thrive not only in product but within the entire company. This creates a huge positive energy that propels the company to perform year after year.

“CBL company restructuring has been about greater overall sustainability,” Shea says. “The role I see myself playing involves transforming the company into a global one with strong sustainable roots. In the past few years, we’ve moved into new growth areas. We’ve strengthened the Sri Lankan supply chain. We already work with about 10,000 farmers and we are trying to increase our ability to add value to the agriculture supply chain, which will grow the community and be an integral part of our business. We are looking at holistic sustainability.”

“We are looking at holistic sustainability.”

Sheamali Wickramasingha, Group Managing Director of Ceylon Biscuits Limited

CBL’s contributions to its community

This only covers the surface of CBL’s contributions to its community; one of its artisanal biscuit manufacturing facilities employs differently abled people, providing work for people with conditions such as Down syndrome. CBL has also worked to improve its supply chain, reducing the use of chemical fertiliser in the crops it uses while simultaneously promoting organic agriculture.

Another initiative aims at maintaining healthy bee populations in rural villages, which not only supports poorer communities but contributes to the stability of the ecosystem by giving a guaranteed buy back for all the honey collected. The company’s numerous activities encompass education, arts, sport, disaster relief and community programs around supporting farmers, entrepreneurs, the elderly and the young.

There is no doubt that, as it expands into countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, CBL will always provide this impressive level of community support. After all, it’s a guiding principle for both the company and Shea. “With our CSR and strategic supply chain initiative, we touch many people’s lives. It’s not just our 5,000 employees. The work we’ve done in the community is tremendously satisfying.”

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