Salads, Jamaican style
Local-inspired set of vinaigrette and salad dressings gain popularity
IF you love salads, and if there is any Jamaican blood in your veins, the mere thought of june plum, sorrel, mango, otaheite apple, and guava vinaigrettes will no doubt have you salivating.
Enter Fruitful Vale Company Limited, a St Andrew-based establishment which manufactures salad dressings and other products under the Springvale brand.
Owner Sandra McLeish tells the Jamaica Observer that the business formally kicked off in 2011 with the intention of using freshly sourced Jamaica ingredients in order to support the local fruit sector, while catering for Jamaicans in the diaspora.
An introduction on the company's website said as much: "We aim to successfully make products that are Jamaican and share [them] with the rest of the world so that Jamaicans and Jamaican food lovers everywhere can experience a taste of Jamaican goodness.
"Springvale is Jamaica's first food and beverage company to have established three Jamaican flavours of salad dressings and vinaigrette and continues to make other great products in Jamaican fruit flavours," it continued.
Marketed as gluten- and MSG-free, with no artificial colouring or flavouring, the Springvale products claim to be 100 per cent healthy and 100 per cent Jamaican.
Starting with only three flavours of vinaigrette, the company has since added two more flavours, and has introduced creamy salad dressings, a sorrel chutney and most recently, a pumpkin ketchup.
"Vinaigrettes were the first thing we did [because] we had a family friend who visited [McLeish]...and she said, 'I want something Jamaican on my salad' because she is a vegetarian and they whipped up a batch and from that, it [the product] went," marketing officer and McLeish's niece Shaquani McKenzie told the Business Observer.
In those early days, the Springvale brand could only be found in the Hi-Lo chain of food stores, but it has since expanded to 120 stores.
"We've even grown to hotel chains and we are also available in our Jamaican airports," McKenzie boasted.
She added that the products have been exported to some Eastern Caribbean countries and that the vision is for expansion of the export side of the business.
"We have been making salad dressings, which are the creamier version [to the vinaigrette]. However, we don't use dairy. We use a fruit-based mixture... No MSG, no gluten, no additional flavour nor colouring... we try to make it as natural as possible," she said.
McKenzie explained that her aunt had a farm in Portland that produced mainly coffee and she took an interest in the various fruit trees on the property that were "going to waste".
"[She thought], 'the fruits are falling off [and] they are wasting. There is a mass of all this stuff [but] people have too much juice so what can we do with them?' and we just started," McKenzie said.
Even after the family relocated to the Corporate Area, they took the farm culture with them. "...[We were] always making our own stuff," added McKenzie.
Referring to the fact that the company uses only Jamaican products in the manufacture of its products, the marketing officer saluted Jamaican farmers, who she said were the backbone of Springvale's business.
"Our produce is from our local farmers and we have to big them up. We try to work with the farmers in the Portland/St Mary area because those are our home towns... so we try to support our home towns as a community development kind of initiative for us at Springvale," she told the Business Observer.
The products are manufactured in a factory in Ebony Park, Clarendon, which the company shares with other small companies. McKenzie told the Business Observer that this arrangement is one of the company's operational challenges as it cuts into the profit margin.
"We definitely want to grow in terms of our own manufacturing so we can have a nice price margin and we won't have to be paying someone else in the long run," she said.
Though financing can also be challenging, the company is currently trying to get investors interested in its brand.
McKenzie told the Business Observer that the greatest benefit to operating in Jamaica is "...getting that 'Wow, that's amazing! How did you come up with that?' from our Jamaican diaspora".
"The reception has been amazing. I must say that for the three years that we have been out, we have had lots of great responses via our product page and our Facebook," she added.
She believes more than anything else it is the uniqueness of the products that have won people over and have got them interested in exploring the Spring Vale brand. She said that people who visit Jamaica and taste the products have become "raving fans overseas" and are usually anxious to get their hands on the products.
"For the people already getting orders from us, like Antigua, every minute is another order; they can't wait to come back to get another one, because their clients love it," she said.
The Springvale dressing, billed as 'Your Everything Dressing', is also a marinade for meats.