Business

Bigger Slice - Tortuga rum cake wants bigger slice of tourism market

Export plans from Jamaica threatened by tax measures

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - Special Assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, May 10, 2013    

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WHILE Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake is a known brand in gift shops throughout the region and on cruise ships, the company is hoping to further capitalise on the Jamaican tourism market by introducing its flagship product as pillow treats in hotel rooms across the island.

The initiative, which has already been introduced in some hotels across the Caribbean and the United States, is part of the company's expansion thrust as it gets ready to begin exporting its cakes out of its Jamaican bakery in Reading, Montego Bay.

Chief marketing officer of Tortuga International, Monique Hamaty-Simmonds, said the company is in discussions with hoteliers to get the products in some hotels in Jamaica.

"We are now working with a number of hotels to have the products as a pillow turn-down because the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so once persons taste it, we will make sure it is available in the airports, the gift shops and wherever, so they will buy it," she said.

Hamaty-Simmonds explained that the initiative has been a huge success in hotels elsewhere in the Caribbean where it has already been introduced. The feedback from Jamaican hoteliers to a similar offering, she said, has been very encouraging.

"We are doing a programme with Ritz-Carlton in West Palm Beach in the United States, Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott in Grand Cayman and the Hilton in Barbados," she told Caribbean Business Report.

The company currently has operations in the Cayman Islands, Barbados, Jamaica and The Bahamas, as well as a sales and distribution centre in the United States.

Meanwhile, Hamaty-Simmonds said there are a number of restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores, in both the United Kingdom and the United States, which are now ready to begin stocking the Tortuga products as soon as they begin exporting.

But despite the significant growth potential for the company, Hamaty-Simmonds said they have had to place a temporary hold on exporting the product to these markets because of the recently announced Government tax measures.

"There are some recent Government tax measures that we have to carefully consider because to have to pay import duties on some of the products we take in, then to re-export that is a cost we can't take on," Hamaty-Simmonds explained.

The dry-mix containing the famous rum cake recipe is imported into Jamaica, where it is baked and packaged for sale.

Despite this challenge, Hamaty-Simmonds said the company has not shelved the export plan, as the distributors are ready to take the products as soon as everything can be finalised.

The Tortuga company was founded in Cayman Islands in 1984 by Jamaicans Captain Robert Hamaty and his wife Carlene, who introduced the first rums of the Cayman Islands, primarily to appeal as a souvenir to the growing tourist and cruise passenger business. In 1987, they opened the first Tortuga duty-free liquor store and later that year introduced the Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake.

In 1997, Tortuga Imports/Tortuga Rum Cake Company opened in Miami, Florida to handle worldwide distribution, mail order and online sales.

Last January, the Tortuga Rum Company, Tortuga Imports and franchise bakeries Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake Jamaica and Tortuga Barbados/Baker's Choice consolidated their regional interests and united into a new international food group, Tortuga International Holdings. At the same time, Jamaica Producers (JP), an established international speciality foods group, made a strategic investment in Tortuga International.

The Tortuga line which started with the original rum cake has since been expanded to include six other flavours, namely coconut, pineapple, banana, chocolate, Blue Mountain coffee and key lime.

In the meantime, store manager at Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cake Jamaica Limited, Dwight Anderson said the move to have the rum cakes as pillow treats in Jamaican hotels will help to attract even greater international recognition of the brand as the company gets ready to begin exporting the product directly from Jamaica.

This, it is hoped, will also help in capturing an even bigger share of the emerging market where visitors from countries, such as those in Eastern Europe, may be less familiar with the product than their North American counterparts.

Anderson explained that, currently, sample size cakes are given as a welcoming gift to visitors who book with Virgin Holidays Tour and this has been going very well for sales of the product.

"Although the same ingredients are used in all the Tortuga rum cakes, persons always express a preference for those made in Jamaica," he said.

Anderson said the presence of Tortuga Rum Cake at this year's staging of the annual Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) tourism trade show has reaped success, with great interest being expressed by both local hoteliers and overseas buyers.

"They were very receptive, especially the higher end hotels, and so we are still working out the details," he said.

The retail store, which opened at the Falmouth pier in Trelawny last year, is also said to be attracting huge traffic from the cruise ship passengers calling at that port.

Meanwhile, Anderson said the Jamaican bakery and distribution which rolls out some 2,000 cakes has the capacity for an even greater output.

Cherica Higgins, a sales and marketing officer at Tortuga, said the company is also hoping to tap into the market for hotel weddings as they have already been called upon to make wedding cakes from the popular rum cake recipe.

The company has also expanded its offerings to include a locally produced Tortuga rum as well as a variety of spices.

According to Higgins, the company provides a steady income for small farmers of scotch bonnet peppers, which is used in the various sauces.

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