Portland’s Finest Seafood — from sea to table
FOR Ronica Bryan, the creation of Portland’s Finest Seafood serves as an opportunity to have flexibility and create a perfect balance between enjoying motherhood and earning an income. But the company is, for her, also a legacy project with sentimental value.
While the thought of being an entrepreneur was never at the forefront of her mind, Bryan said the idea of operating a business was proposed by her business partner who is also her son’s father. After much discussion and consideration, the couple landed on the idea of distributing locally sourced raw seafood.
“I grew up seeing my father have a lobster chain that lasted over 30 years supplying hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, among other businesses along the north coast and into Jamaica’s west coast as well. When he died, that business came to an abrupt end,” Bryan told the Jamaica Observer.
“So in 2020, I was pregnant with my son and I wanted to do something for myself and the idea came from my son’s father to start a business. So I revamped that business,” the young businesswoman further outlined.
With the financial support of her partner, and depending on some of the previous business connections of her father, Bryan started Portland’s Finest Seafood in May 2020, initially supplying a number of restaurants along Jamaica’s north coast
“One of our major accounts is actually Sharkies Seafood Restaurant [in Runaway Bay] and we’ve had that account for over a year-and-a-half now…and we also service another three restaurants in Ocho Rios,” she said.
Having realised a proof of concept for the business, Bryan was determined to build out the operational model of Portland’s Finest as business-to-business distributor of local seafood to a number of retail outlets. Among the products that the company supplies are sea crab, blue crab, lobster tail, shrimp, octopus, and sea urchin.
Soon enough her products reached the shelves of membership warehouse club PriceSmart.
“I knew when I started I didn’t just want a B2C (business-to-consumer) distributor doing door-to-door deliveries. PriceSmart was one of the first major entities I approached and we are one of the smallest entities to supply to them and they have been very gracious because we’ve had our ups and downs in terms of communication and meeting their requirements for delivery. So it’s been a good year for us with PriceSmart,” she detailed.
Portland’s Finest Seafood’s journey with PriceSmart began approximately after Bryan received an invitation from the outlet to sell her products on a trial basis during the Yuletide season in what was termed a “roadshow”. Subsequent to that trial, PriceSmart again invited Bryan to embark on another roadshow promotion during the season of Lent earlier this year.
“We now have an upcoming roadshow with PriceSmart for the December season and also we’ll be a part of their Lent programme,” she said.
With the company’s successful showing at PriceSmart, Progressive Grocers soon came calling. In fact, Bryan shared that had it not been for the promotional opportunity from PriceSmart, Progressive Grocers would not have discovered Portland’s Finest Seafoods.
According to her, a representative from Progressive Grocers had seen the label in PriceSmart but could not decipher the phone number on the packaging. However, upon realising that Portland’s Finest packages it products at the Scientific Research Council (SRC) in St Andrew, the representative reached out to the government lab and requested the contact information for the seafood distributor.
The company also supplies the General Foods outlets in Liguanea, St Andrew, and Ocho Rios in St Ann,
When asked about the company’s partnership with SRC, Bryan noted that Portland’s Finest has been using the facilities since 2021.
“We’re able to use the facility because it’s more convenient in terms of how it is set up. They also have all the requirements,” the entrepreneur stated, adding that the packaging lab is internationally certified under Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points standards.
“It’s a proper system that is followed and when you’re dealing with food, especially stuff like shellfish, it is essential that you follow protocols. Right now, we want to continue working with them because of how structured they are and how rigorous and precise their system is. When we package at SRC, it also gives us a better standing with insurance companies because they know that our company is in a place where they’re not gonna breach certain health standards,” she continued.
But before the packaging process, Portland’s Finest has to source its products from local fishermen plying their trade in waters off the coast of Manchioneal, Portland, where Bryan’s father was born and raised, or in the Portland Cottage community in southern Clarendon — giving rise to the company’s name.
“Manchioneal was a key factor in the whole development of the company. That’s where I know of and that was where I began to develop a rapport with the fishermen,” she revealed.
Still, with demand rising, Bryan said the company is now spreading its tentacles as far as Westmoreland to source fresh catch.
“We have boats that we send out to sea with licensed fishermen. We have a policy where we only practise sustainable fishing. So they will go out on a daily basis to get fresh supplies and they also have proper storage and the means of transporting the catch back to shore,” she informed Sunday Finance.
Complementing that strategy of sourcing products is a mission of “giving back to the communities because fishing communities are often plagued by poverty”, Bryan related.
While the company has managed to grow without little to no marketing, and the businesswoman remains keen on pursuing B2B distribution, she noted that “we have about 20 people calling and asking, ‘Where can I find you to order crab to buy?’ Because they go into the stores, they see the product, the love the product and they like the packaging and they also love the fact that the product is local.
With over $3 million invested in Portland’s Finest, Bryan and her partner have recouped their initial capital and continue to see added returns. She estimates that the company’s net profit is about 30 per cent of its revenues.
With plans to step up the company’s marketing, the company is now preparing for its inaugural seafood festival in 2024 at Plantation Cove in St Ann.