Food entrepreneurs cook up a storm in 2019

Food entrepreneurs cook up a storm in 2019

Sunday, January 05, 2020

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In 2019 the Business Observer featured several entrepreneurs involved in food production in Jamaica. A number of trends and themes came to light from this exposé of creative enterprises from Kingston, Montego Bay, and other areas of Jamaica.

All of these businesses fell under the category of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). They included two chocolate manufacturers, One One Cacao run by Nick Davis, and Pure Chocolate operated by Trelawny-based husband and wife team Wouter Tjeertes and Rennae Johnson. Veg Out, a Montegonian company that makes meatless veggie burgers and other vegetarian products was also featured. The company was founded by husband and wife duo, Chris and Dolly Punjabi.

The Likkle Tea brand of blended loose-leaf teas and tisanes (herbal teas) produced by 29-year-old entrepreneur Patrique Goodall was also covered, while Jason Lutz and Chad Wilson were highlighted for their creation, The Jamaica Peanut Butter Factory. Larry Gardiner, otherwise known as Chef G, also came to the attention of the Jamaica Observer through his Twist ice cream parlour in Tower Isle, St Mary.

These companies, in 2019, had staff ranging from one full-time employee to no more than five or six employees working for them.

The role of SMEs in the island's economy was a much-talked-about theme in the private sector last year, particularly in the tourism industry where they were the focus of the second United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Small and Medium Tourism Enterprises, which was held in February at Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, St James.

While the focus of the conference was actually on SMTEs (small and medium tourism enterprises), it also emphasised the importance of linkages in the economy between tourism and other industries such as gastronomy, agriculture and food manufacturing.

Interestingly, three of the small enterprises named above had connections to tourism. One One Cacao hosts an experience through Airbnb where visitors come to the manufacturing facility to learn about chocolate production and taste the chocolate where it is manufactured.

Tjeertes and Johnson of Pure Chocolate host interactive workshops, tastings and pairings, as well as team-building exercises for locals and tourists. The Jamaican Peanut Butter Factory was selling its product to Half Moon hotel in Montego Bay this year, and the company's plans include expanding into the tourism market by way of souvenir shops, airports, ports and a greater presence in resort towns.

Linkages (in particular those between tourism and gastronomy) were highlighted at the UNWTO conference because experiential tourism, where travellers immerse themselves in the culture, history and gastronomy of a country, is a growing trend in international tourism.

“Experiential tourism is growing, and Jamaica is uniquely poised to take advantage due to our natural assets, our culture, food and music,” Nicola Madden-Greig, chairman of the Gastronomy Network within the Tourism Linkages Network, was quoted as saying after the conference. “Through gastronomy we have been working to implement specific programmes but also to inspire others to create new and inspirational offerings.”

Coming out of the conference, the Jamaica Observer reported that “a survey completed in 2016 and 2017 demonstrates the success that Jamaica's Gastronomy Network has enjoyed in moving this sector of the tourism economy forward. In 2016, 14 per cent of the survey's respondents ranked food as one of their top 10 reasons for visiting Jamaica, while in 2017 that figure rose to 24 per cent. This shift moved food from 6th position to second place”.

The impact, therefore, that entrepreneurs in the food industry can have on the tourism sector should not be understated.

Another theme that emerged from these entrepreneurial stories was healthy lifestyles. One One Cacao and Pure Chocolate manufacture dark chocolate, which provides health benefits through a rich source of nutrients and antioxidants. Twist in St Mary produces non-dairy, natural, coconut milk-based ice cream.

“All of our ice creams have less than seven ingredients,” the owner disclosed to the Business Observer earlier this year. “No GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. I don't use any kind of flavourings, so if I am making soursop it is 100 per cent straight soursop; I don't use powder. Everything is done 100 per cent from the fruit itself. We only use 100 per cent cane sugar and no other sugar.”

The Jamaican Peanut Butter Factory uses natural ingredients as well, while Patrique Goodall's Likkle Tea is a natural and healthy product. In August, Goodall was planning to expose the therapeutic benefits of tea to underprivileged young ladies through a tea therapy session.

Sustainability of the island's food industry is another theme that emerged from these stories, as well as other food-related features carried by the newspaper in 2019. The Jamaican Peanut Butter Factory supports, local suppliers buying from roughly 40 local peanut farmers.

“Their ingredients of honey, coconut oil and chocolate all come from different suppliers in the parish of St Thomas,” the Jamaica Observer reported in October.

The 'tree to bar' chocolate manufacturers have pulled from Jamaican cocoa farmers in an industry that has been underutilised and has great potential. Twist ice cream is also doing its part to support local suppliers.

“What we have is what we call a 'farm to spoon programme', so we actually buy fruits directly from the farmers and we process the fruits in-house, and we create our purees and make our fruit-based ice creams,” Gardiner related in September.

“We have gotten a link with the Ministry of Agriculture through Rural Agricultural Development Authority [RADA] introducing us to more farmers — so we have greater access to produce and we were at the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show recently,” he added. “Right now we are working with the Ministry of Agriculture to look at all the various fruits that we have in Jamaica, because we have become really big in terms of our fruit flavours.”

Beyond these manufacturers, the topic of sustainability was highlighted in another entrepreneurial story about Marvin Campbell, owner of the Fresh Vege farm in St Ann who promotes a green lifestyle agenda through his MAIA (Making An Impact All-Together) foundation. The foundation targets children in homes, orphanages and shelters to educate them on food sustainability through the planting of fruit trees where they live.

Another Jamaican entrepreneur, 36-year-old Peter Ivey, owner of The Reggae Chefs in New York, was covered by this publication in 2019 for his Mission:FoodPossible (M:FP) programme, which educates community members and schools on how to maximise food resources.

“The aim of M:FP is to alleviate hunger among Jamaicans by teaching them more ways to utilise foods that are cheap and readily available,” the Jamaica Observer revealed in August. “Such foods are referred to as MVP's (most valuable produce) by the M:FP organisation.”

So far, Ivey has implemented his programme at five schools in St Catherine and Portland.

Even in the fast food industry this year, sustainability was a theme. In an article about a report from Forbes magazine highlighting Jamaica's fast food industry, it was noted that Island Grill “offers local food on its menu after launching Supaah Food and introducing 'earth-friendly packaging', while Juici Patties has introduced local produce to their offerings such as sweet potato, ackee, banana, callaloo and yam, and has replaced animal fat with plant-based oil”.

“Another positive feature of the Jamaican fast food industry, according to the Forbes article, is that local ingredients including meats, vegetables, eggs, fruits and dairy products make up between 50 and 80 per cent of all ingredients, while the other 20-50 per cent is imported,” the story also related. “The engagement of local services by fast food companies and the sourcing of local sauces and condiments to satisfy local tastes also contribute to the local economy.”

In March of 2019 a feature was also published on 'Ol' Joe', an “over the counter” — style fast food restaurant specialising in Jamaican food and committed to food sustainability in the island. The owners, chef Robbie Josephs and his son Robbie Josephs Jr, “support Jamaican farmers and producers and work closely with Rural Agricultural Development Authority to find farmers all over the island. It is a way of collaborating with local producers and promoting their produce”.

These trends and themes coming from entrepreneurship within Jamaica's food industry have been both positive and promising in 2019, and the Jamaica Observer looks forward to uncovering more encouraging stories from this sector as the country begins a new year.

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