MANGO VALLEY, St Mary — Mango Valley Visionaries, through its brand name Mango Valley Pride, has been the face of this rural St Mary community for many years. Now, the women at the helm of the friendly society want to take their agri-processing business into new realms serving the island and the wider Caribbean.
That means increasing the volume and variety of goods they produce, but this requires increased financing and a bigger workforce.
Presently, they make banana, plantain, sweet potato and cassava flour, guava jelly, and the infamous Otaheiti apple raisins and Otaheiti balls. They also produce chocolate sticks and balls from the Caribbean's finest coco, powdered nutmeg, and a snack pack which contains dried apple, pineapple, papaya, and banana. There is also a ground orange peel spice — which can be used on meat, in baked products, or as a tea — ground pimento, turmeric powder, jerk seasoning, roasted and unroasted chocolate beans, and wines made from pimento, jackfruit, orange and naseberry.
Even with all that, the group is not producing as much as it would like to, primarily as a result of financial challenges.
"There is a big demand for these so we need more people to work, but we need more raw material, and we need the funding to purchase the material," founder of the group Cinderella Anderson, told the Jamaica Observer North East.
She added that the Mango Valley products were of very high quality and that they are favourites of locals and foreigners alike. As such, she said the group intends to expand its range of products. Part of the vision is to have their products on every supermarket shelf in the country. Anderson advises that they are also eyeing the export market, and have had preliminary meetings with the Jamaica Exporters' Association.
"We want to add more products. Mango Valley is a Mecca for flour, and now, since we have our latest Otaheiti apple balls and raisins those are what you call a hit on the market," said Anderson.
Plans have been made to expand the factory as the group pursues a business loan or grant funding to help move its production to the next level.
"Once, we were not able to sell a lot of products, even though they were of a very high quality. We were making just a few for like trade shows, but now we are really selling to persons out there," she said.
The brand has grown tremendously over the years, moving from a wood-fire operation when it just started to commercial equipment and 11 female employees who work on a shift system. The group has also shifted focus from embroidery products, which they say netted very low sales.
Reflecting on the journey to date, Anderson said it has been "real hard work".
"You just have to tell yourself like you looking over yonder on somebody and say 'the gates of Hell shall not prevail against me' because we want to hit the gold. We just have to fight, and life is a war; and if you can't fight then you are not going to win," she said.
President of the group, Charmaine Wright, explained that the location of the factory in the Mango Valley community has brought hope to residents who previously thought unwanted fruits could only be used to feed animals.
"This factory has shown that there are so many things that you can do with the fruits to make a living," she said, adding that women in other areas who were unemployed should consider forming groups and seeking ways in which they can earn from things around them.
"You don't have to be well-educated or go to college," said Wright. "I didn't go to college, but I have found a way to use my hands and to be productive and to help myself and my family."
Training has been a very important part of the group's operations and all its employees, Anderson explained, have been trained in Hazard Analysis Critical Control by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and through a United Kingdom-based group. They have also been trained in other areas by the Social Development Commission and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, and some have visited London as part of a training exercise.
"In London, we saw how they packaged and labelled their products, and also how they marketed the products and that trip really helped us with the labelling and marketing," she explained.
The Mango Valley group has received support from the Canadian Fund, the European Union, Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, Inter-American Foundation, and Local Initiative Facility for Urban Development, which donated the factory building.
The factory boasts a biogas treatment facility and a solar heating system which contributes to lower energy costs and greener production.
Anderson is proud of the group's achievements to date and boasted that all their products have repeatedly won gold medals at various culinary competitions. The last award, in May this year, came from Continental Baking Company (National) as part of its 'Bold' ones campaign.
The group president asserted that Mango Valley Pride has been able to stand out over the years because of creativity, innovativeness, sacrifice, self-reliance, and commitment to making the factory a success.
The group's public relations officer, Yvonne Moodie, said she, too, was pleased with how the company has grown, but said further growth was being thwarted by a lack of funds.
"There is so much more that we can do, but we need some additional funding so we can employ more people, get more raw material and produce more items," Moodie said after explaining the joy she feels when people express satisfaction with the taste and general quality of the group's products.