There is no reason why grocery stores in Cuba should look much different from those elsewhere. And they do not. Cuba may have been isolated by the United States, but Havana had trade ties with other nations, including Russia and Brazil. The issue is hard currency. Cuba did have access to international product markets during the US embargo period, it just did not have the ability to pay for those goods in US dollars. Do not confuse unilateral sanctions with multilateral ones.
That reality plays out in Cuban supermarkets. The nation has a basic supply-chain infrastructure, capable of distributing essential consumer goods. Grocery stores and bodegas simply lack depth of selection and breadth of offering in packaged goods. In other words, there may be one size of cooking oil and two types of toothpaste. Forget about the gluten-free humus.
As the Cuban economy liberalizes, there will be incremental opportunity for international consumer-goods companies. But revenue gains for those exporting to Cuba are likely be marginal at best. Purchasing power will remain limited, even with US engagement. Those sectors set to be the most buoyant are the ones with direct access to foreign exchange, including tourism and agriculture. The opportunity cost of trying to build a domestically-oriented business here may be insurmountable for the time being. ■
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