Increasing income driving growth of Jamaica's fast food industry — Forbes

Observer writer

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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A recent Forbes article penned by environmental, food and agriculture writer Daphne Ewing-Chow, entitled 'The Globalisation Of Fast Food, Public Health And Why We Should Have An Eye On Jamaica', noted that quick-service restaurants on the island are proliferating faster than any other segment of the restaurant industry. It also revealed that half of these quick-service restaurants were made up of US fast-food franchises.

As the industry expands in Jamaica, the health risks associated with fast food continue to be a global concern. The article pointed to the 2017 Jamaica School Health Survey, which found that 24 per cent of the students who participated in the study were overweight and nine per cent were suffering from obesity while 68 per cent consumed carbonated beverages at least once daily and more than 50 per cent had fast food on one or more days per week. The 1,667 students who participated in the survey were from 13 to 17 years old.

There are statistics that validate the global concern mentioned in Ewing-Chow's article. According to an article on the Boston University research institution website — a paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that examined 10 fast -food companies including KFC and McDonald's that have a sizeable global footprint — found that between 1986 and 2016 fast food menus increased by 226 per cent and portion sizes and calories also grew significantly. Sodium content also increased.

A report highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that from 2013 to 2016, in the USA alone, around 37 per cent of American adults consumed fast food on a given day.

It also revealed that the overall percentage of adult consumers of fast food increased with income.

This reinforces a point made in the Forbes article that the growth of the fast-food industry in Jamaica was being driven by increasing incomes. It also mentioned market deregulation, urbanisation and foreign direct investment as the other contributing factors to the sector's growth.

The article reports that the Ministry of Health has sought to address health concerns through promotion strategies appealing to fast-food restaurants to offer more healthy and affordable alternatives to customers.

Island Grill, the article points out, offers local food on its menu after launching Supaah Food and introducing “earth-friendly packaging”, while Juici Patties has introduced local produce to their offerings such as sweet potato, ackee, banana, callaloo and yam and has replaced animal fat with plant-based oil.

A recent article from the health-oriented multimedia content platform Longevity indicates that there is indeed a growing trend among global fast-food organisations towards healthier options. It cites data from The Good Food institute showing that sales of plant-based foods increased by 8.1 per cent between 2016 and 2017. It also reveals that White Castle, Carl's Jr, Burger King and Del Taco all now offer meatless, plant-based options on their menu.

Beyond Meat, a company that sells protein that is similar in taste and look to meat, estimates that in the future the plant-based meat market in the United States could reach US$35 billion. Market research firm MarketsandMarkets projects that the global market for meat substitutes will increase from US$4.6 billion to US$6.4 billion during the period 2018 - 2023.

Another positive feature of the Jamaican fast-food industry, according to the Forbes article, is that local ingredients including meats, vegetables, eggs, fruits and dairy products make up between 50 and 80 per cent of all ingredients while the other 20-50 per cent is imported. The engagement of local services by fast food companies and the sourcing of local sauces and condiments to satisfy local tastes also contribute to the local economy.

Ol' Joe, an “over-the-counter”, quick-service restaurant in Montego Bay, was featured in the Jamaica Observer recently and is an example of one company that takes the support of the local food industry very seriously. The restaurant is owned by the father and son team of Robbie Josephs, and Robbie Josephs, Jr and specialises entirely in Jamaican food. Robbie Josephs Jr explained to the Business Observer that Ol' Joe supports Jamaican farmers and producers by working closely with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority to find farmers all over the island as a way of collaborating with local producers and promoting their produce.

The Forbes article puts the contribution of the Jamaican fast-food industry (including US fast-food chains) in 2017 at 40 per cent of the estimated US$700 million in sales earned by the entire consumer foodservice sector in the country. This indicates a growth of five per cent over the year before. It also acknowledges the significant employment generated by quick-service restaurants pointing to the roughly 2,000 jobs in 2018 provided by KFC alone.

It lists "18 Island Grills, 61 Juici Patties and 32 Tastees," among the various locally owned fast food companies and “19 Burger Kings, 16 Dominos, 11 Pizza Huts, 7 Little Caesars, 36 KFCs, 9 Popeyes Louisiana Kitchens, 4 Subways, 9 Wendy's and 2 TGI Fridays representing the foreign brands."

It also made special mention of the fact that Restaurants of Jamaica (ROJ), which operates KFC and Pizza Hut, plans a further investment of over J$2.8 billion by 2021.

While acknowledging the positive growth of the fast-food industry in Jamaica the article suggests there is still room for improvement.

“We have had a lot of foreign investment, but I don't think domestic investment has yet been unleashed in the way that it can and ultimately will,” it quotes Jamaica's Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke as saying in a recent speech.

The answer would be to continue or increase the positive efforts that are already being made in the areas of healthier alternatives and more local products to benefit local farmers and producers.

Ewing-Chong ends her piece by stating, “if foreign fast-food chains are unable to respond to the global trend of healthy offerings in their Jamaican restaurants, this is an opportune time for local chains to amp up the competition.”

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