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Mahalia's blend!

High school student creates food seasoning product

Garfield Angus

Tuesday, March 11, 2014    

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May Pen, Clarendon — At a time when focus is being placed on entrepreneurship and small business development, one high school student has developed and is marketing her own line of natural food seasoning.

She is 18-year-old Mahalia Gordon, a student at the Central High School in May Pen, who has developed 'Gordonna's Everybody's Natural Blend', according to the government's information arm, Jamaica Information Service (JIS).

The condiment, formulated from locally grown herbs and spices such as ginger, pimento, escallion, onion, peppers, thyme, among others, promises to add flavour to one's favourite savoury dishes and recipes. Available in various sizes, the bottled product is free of artificial preservatives and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

It is being marketed on a small scale in Clarendon but Mahalia has dreams of expanding production to put the item on supermarket shelves across the island and internationally.

At a recent re-dedication ceremony at the school, where the product was on display, Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites not only purchased a bottle of the seasoning, but lauded the effort of the sixth former.

He says that there is the potential to create wealth for the young entrepreneur, and also to cut down on the imports of such items.

"This is exactly what we want our students to do, not only gain competence in practical areas along with their academics ...she has done well in order to get to sixth form and in addition, she has an eye of setting up her own business. Suppose many more of us did that? Let me encourage her," the minister said.

Mahalia told JIS News that she loves to prepare meals, using her own special blends of seasonings and sauces. She says the idea to sell one of her formulations came one day while she was at home preparing meat for cooking.

"I was just seasoning meat. I blended everything, then I said to my mommy, 'persons like things quick and easy, so I could bottle and sell this,'" she recalled.

She says she wants to tap into the natural products market. "Nowadays, persons tend to practise healthy eating; it is the only way to go. So I took this initiative to go all natural. Persons like the idea, and I have got good results," she said.

She next approached her cousin, Joy Robinson, who is a caterer, for advice on how to bring her product to market and she was told to contact the Scientific Research Council (SRC).

"After meeting with an officer at the agency, and following the technical advice given, the idea came into full," Mahalia said.

Research scientist at the SRC, Sardia Morgan, told JIS News that the organisation was impressed with Mahalia.

Morgan said the student's product is part of a list of sauces and seasonings "that are doing well right now," and the agency was eager to offer her assistance in getting her idea from infancy stage to the market.

"We were very impressed. We assisted her with information about the requirements for sauces, seasoning blends, raw material requirements and how to process the actual product. We allowed her to do testing just to ensure that standards were met that would be required by the Bureau of Standards. She had a very positive attitude, and that we also admired," Morgan said.

Such is the quality of the product that Morgan feels that once Mahalia can be assisted with production on a larger scale and marketing, she will do well. "If she gets the required help she will do very well," she told JIS News.

Head of the Department of Home Economics at Central High School, Elaine Thomas, said she saw the potential of the product, and helped with the labelling.

She also bought quantities for her household, and used it to prepare lunch for the education minister and other dignitaries, who attended the re-dedication function.

"I really have to encourage her in all of this as she can go places with it. It is a good idea, and I am proud of the steps that she has taken," the teacher said.

Mahalia's mother, Opal Welsh Gordon, says she has always known that her daughter had a creative mind.

She recalls that from a very young age, her daughter would use cartridge paper to design various items, and colour and decorate them.

Gordon says she is awed by what her daughter has achieved so far. "I was overwhelmed when I saw it. I commended her on doing such a thing like that. I expect it to reach overseas, based on the interest that I am seeing," she said.

Gordon says that she is assisting with marketing the product in Clarendon, and "will soon take it to other parts of the island".

Principal of Central High School, Vinroy Harrison, sees big things ahead for Mahalia.

"She came up with an original product using indigenous material... she has become a very resourceful person. I am excited, and I see where she can go places," Harrison said.

Mahalia is set to enter the University of Technology, later this year to pursue a degree in food and nutrition.

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