Jamaica’s Food Exporters Strive to Develop Global Brands
Safety Certification, Production Expansion Are the Keys
Jamaica, a small island nation of 2.8 million people, arguably occupies oversized real estate in global cultural consciousness, whether in the area of sports, music, or, for some, herbal refreshment.
But what about food? The Jamaican Jerk Hut in Philadelphia figured prominently in the hit movie In Her Shoes a few years ago, and there are other similar establishments in other locations where the Jamaican diaspora is concentrated, places like New York, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, and parts of Canada and the United Kingdom.
It’s not at all surprising that Jamaican expats should be establishing Jamaican restaurants and that non-Jamaicans should enjoying that food, but, when it comes to finding Jamaican delicacies on supermarket shelves, Jamaican exporters still have a way to go.
That’s the case even though Jamaican food producers are prodigious exporters. Grace Food Processors, a subsidiary of GraceKennedy Ltd., one of Jamaica’s largest companies, exports 80 percent of its products, which includes ketchup, juice drinks, and canned vegetables, across the Caribbean and to the US, Canada, the UK, and Ghana. Over half of the company’s successful Grace Tropical Rhythm Juice Drinks, which comes in flavors like pineapple guava, mango, pineapple ginger, and ginger carrot, are exported to those same markets.
King Pepper Products Ltd., which manufactures an extensive line of distinctively Jamaican jerk products—spicy seasonings for meat, poultry, and fish—among others, under the Eaton brand, exports 85 percent of its jerk output. Sixty percent of the company’s exports go to the United States.
King Pepper sells in the United States through distributors, explained Christine Wong, the company’s managing director, and through private label buyers who do their own distributing. The products are sold primarily in markets that specialize in West Indian foods and in other smaller markets such as convenience stores. “We have not yet reached the mainstream markets,” she explained.
The same goes for Grace products, according to general manager Andrew Wildish, where foods exported outside of the Caribbean region are directed primarily to Jamaican diaspora communities.
One challenge to both companies is one of scale. King Pepper produced two-million jars of jerk products last year. If the company is to supply a major supermarket chain in the United States, it will no doubt be expected to increase its output several times over. The company currently employs around 60 people in a facility not purpose built for food production. Grace Food Processors fields a team of 40 administrative and technical workers and 83 production workers.
King Pepper has acreage on which it can expand but at this point, that notion is more of a dream than a plan, noted Wong. The company’s current focus is to be certified on the Global Food Safety Initiative standard for food safety and quality.
“Grace Food Processing has attained certification in FSSC 22000:2011,” noted Wildish.
For both companies, expansion is key, if they are to meet the potential demand of large supermarket chains in the US, Canada, and the UK. If they are able to clear that hurdle, they could be on their way to develop their Jamaican delicacies into global brands.
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