Overseas distributors buying up jerk to satisfy locked-up Jamaicans

Overseas distributors buying up jerk to satisfy locked-up Jamaicans

BY STEVEN JACKSON Business writer jacksons@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 13, 2013

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SUPPLIERS to foreign prisons are grabbing up jerk sauces to meet the demand from the high population of incarcerated Jamaicans abroad.

"It's big business," said marketing consultant Virginia Burke in her address at a Jamaica Exporters Association (JEA) workshop on Wednesday.

"The caterers in the prisons are buying the sauces," she told Caribbean Business Report following her address at the JEA Packaging & Labelling Workshop held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

Burke referred to the prison demand as an aside to her discussion on "knowing your customers'" habits and lifestyle in order to achieve brand growth.

The trained graphic artiste and former marketing executive has authored two Caribbean Cookbooks -- Eat Caribbean and Walkerswood Caribbean Kitchen.

She reasoned that local companies do not supply the prisons directly but receive bulk orders from overseas distributors who in turn resell to the caterers.

"They are buying jerk seasoning by the gallons and tubs (in the UK)," said Burke, although she doesn't know whether the expected demand within North American prisons remains untapped.

However, Caribbean Business Report was told that a Jamaican-owned franchise based in the US supplies prisons with meals.

"I know one guy that does it. He has a catering business and restaurant chain and because of the number of Jamaicans in jail he supplies the menu twice a week," said Ian Garbutt, managing director of Associated Manufacturers, producers of Walkerswood and Busha Browne.

Garbutt added that the company -- which he declined to name on record to respect protocol -- created its own line of sauces for retail and for catering. The investor approached local suppliers but chose a cheaper sauce supplier in Costa Rica.

"Clearly there is a market for sauces in prisons," he said.

Export earnings in sauces continued to grow last year -- 16 per cent year on year to US$14.5 million ($1.5b) in 2012 -- according to the latest Economic and Social Survey Jamaica.

That amount actually beat export earnings in coffee, ackee, non-alcoholic drinks and baked products.

"I understand that they sell more jerk seasonings to the prisons because there are so many Jamaicans. They cater to the taste of the inmates and also hospitals do it," she said in her address at the workshop. "It's crazy but this is what is happening they buy it by case load."

The number of Jamaicans in UK prisons stood at 783 up to June 2013, down from its peak of 2,808 in 2003, according to information on the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.

That might not seem large, but it is significant as Polish and Jamaican prisoners account for the largest foreign national population in the UK prison system, according to UK Crown statistics.

Burke said that local sauces would appeal to Jamaicans but would potentially serve all inmates.

Highlighting the strength of the Jamaican culture in the UK prison system is the fact that, earlier this year, imprisoned dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel was ironically named the second most requested artiste among British prison inmates. The list, which is topped by deceased American rapper Tupac Shakur, features other Jamaican acts such as Gyptian (10th), Jah Cure (11th), Bob Marley (14th) and Movado (18th), according to a National Prison Radio (NPR) 2012 playlist.

As at June 30, 2013, England and Wales prison population stood at some 83,840, of which some 10,780 were foreign nationals, according to statistics from the House of Commons Library posted to the UK Parliament.

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