From bag juice beginnings, Ireland grows fresh produce empire

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter

Sunday, August 21, 2016

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"David Ireland a sell bag juice!" Those were the words echoed across St Andrew Primary School when one of Ireland’s schoolmates saw him selling in the Coronation Market in downtown Kingston.

Evidently, this intimidated the 9-year-old, who was subject to much ridicule thereafter by his peers. But little did they know that Ireland would be operating a highly profitable fruit and vegetable distribution business one day.

What started out as a means to obtain supplementary income to send himself and his brothers to school and to assist his mother who was also a vendor in the market, quickly turned into a sustainable operation – one which now serves more than 20 hotels and restaurants in Kingston and St Andrew.

"I’m from very humble beginnings. My brother, who is older than I am, sold bag juice in Kingston before moving on to sell ground provisions in the market. Back then people would ask me to supply restaurants and I saw an opportunity where I could make a profit from doing that. Anything I didn’t have I could get from fellow sellers in the market," Ireland told the Jamaica Observer during a round-table in interview recently.

The business, registered as Ireland’s Farmers and Farm Supplies, distributes all kinds of produce including hard-to- get items like strawberries, kiwis, romaine lettuce, coloured sweet peppers, zucchini, irish potato and yellow squash in the order of up to 3,000 pounds per week. The business is operated from his home in Patrick City.

Ireland’s Farmers and Farm Supplies’ biggest customers are the Spanish Court Hotel, Knutsford Court Hotel, Pegasus Hotel, Courtleigh Hotel, Eden Gardens, Terra Nova Hotel and Christar Villa along with corporate office canteens, Chinese restaurants and fine gifts distributor, All Wrapped Up.

But getting the business off the ground was not an easy task.

"The transition from selling downtown to supplying restaurants started when someone introduced us to buying produce from farmers in the country. The individual had a bus and would go to country and buy fresh produce at lower prices," the 34-year-old told
Sunday Finance.

"Back then the loan agency Fortune Corporation provided vendors with the option to take in their purchases and credit note books and they could receive a loan to purchase a vehicle. I asked my mom to apply for the loan and she was a bit hesitant, but I eventually convinced her that it would work."

By this time, Ireland was approaching age 17, and under the law could not operate the vehicle on his own. His older brother had migrated shortly before they acquired the vehicle, thus Ireland and his mother took the decision to hire a driver who would assist with locating the farmers.

Things were off to a slow start, but that was about to change when he was approached by the operator of a Chinese restaurant on the Pavilion Mall in Kingston. Today, Ireland supports more than 40 farmers across the island in carrying out the operations of his business. He also employs six people to ensure efficiency in business transactions.

And there is room for more growth as Ireland eyes an acquisition for next March.

"We definitely will be growing. Someone that I currently purchase produce from will be retiring, so he opted to sell me the business," he said. "However, this individual is in the business of importation. Produce that we don’t have locally like American apples, grapes; that’s the business that they are in and so we would purchase those produce from him."

The acquisition would result in the growth of Ireland’s customer base to include individuals who supply Burger King and Restaurants of Jamaica, operators of KFC and Pizza Hut. What’s more, the acquisition would require Ireland to hire an additional 20 people to support the business venture.

"The business also supplies many hotels and supermarkets island-wide, so once I purchase it my business will start seeing much more growth," Ireland continued. "This is what I want to do, I’ve never done a nine to five job and I don’t have any plans to do that, so I’m giving this business my all and I also believe in this country."

The past student of Denham Town High School in downtown Kingston noted that his ultimate dream is to build his market locally, and to eventually get a toehold into the exportation of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

"That would be a dream come true. I’ve always been supplying produce to individuals who export. I do a lot of business with farmers in St Thomas that have acres of scotch bonnet peppers and I also consider bananas. But before all of that, I’d like to cement business relations here in Jamaica before moving overseas," Ireland said.






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