Rainforest targets diaspora

RAINFOREST Caribbean has set its sights on the diaspora market as it seeks to expand exports outside the region. The diaspora market for Rainforest Caribbean, however, extends beyond Jamaica to include all West Indian communities abroad, especially those in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

Brian Jardim, CEO of Rainforest Caribbean, said though the company now exports to 30 countries currently — including the UK, mainland Europe and Asian countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and China, as well as North American countries such as the USA and Canada — the products are mostly sold directly to other companies for their own use.

"We are currently B2B (business-to-business) primarily with our lobsters and conchs and shrimp," Jardim told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week. He said while the company expects to continue in that market, he wants to get the Rainforest Caribbean brand, "which is already strong in the Caribbean from Guyana [in the south] all the way up to Cayman", to growing in those markets.

"Our thrust is to get to more B2C (business-to-consumer) in the diaspora market. Right now, our sales to those markets are straight B2B. We sell lobster, for example, to Reb Lobster in the US, which is a B2B transaction," Jardim told the Business Observer. Red Lobster is a Florida, USA-based casual dining restaurant chain with operations in other countries including China, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

"We also sell products through Thai Union, for example, which is one of the largest importers," Jardim continued as he outlined Rainforest Caribbean's relationship with other companies which buy its products around the world. Thai Union is a Thailand-based producer of seafood-based products.

"They [Thai Union] also own Chicken of the Sea [a packager and provider of seafood with its headquarters in the US] and we sell to various importers in France and Spain and Greece and the UK, etc, but [our exports] end up in an institutional selling environment going to restaurants. However, our [Rainforest] brand is limited in those First World markets and, in particular, the three primary diaspora markets — US, UK and Canada. Our brand isn't consumer-facing like we would love it to be, like it is in the Caribbean," he outlined.

He said the focus over the next few years will be to build out the Rainforest Caribbean brand in the diaspora markets and to "grow that and to include a footprint in the US with our own distribution and expanding our business to get products to market and to support it with branding and merchandising, etc."

"So you've got Guyanese and Trinis and Bajans, all of those diaspora in the US, Canada and UK, in addition to our Jamaican Diaspora who is familiar with our products over the last 25 years and who we feel are ready for that opportunity to have it on their shelves."

The company rebranded from Rainforest Seafoods last year to Rainforest Caribbean, including unveiling a new logo, to not only signal its diversification beyond seafoods to include other products such as fresh meats and bammies, but also to showcase its growth as a regional, rather than a Jamaican entity.

"The rebranding that we did was to modernise the brand to push extra-regionally, which means the US, Europe and so on. We wanted to make sure our brand could travel in those markets," Jerome Miles, general manager of Rainforest Caribbean, added.

Rainforest Caribbean currently has operations in five countries in the region — Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, and Barbados.

"Our last regional expansion was into Barbados where we now have the beginnings of a distribution system and retail outlets," stated Jardim.

The Rainforest Caribbean CEO said the company has doubled both its revenues and the number of its employees since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jardim said the company now employs 1,000 team members across the five territories in which it has operations, but declined to reveal its revenues, citing the company is privately held.

"We move probably 1,500 containers of products each year, mostly 40-foot containers across the five locations in which we operate," Miles said as he tried to convey the scale of the Rainforest Caribbean operation.

The company said it does over 2,000 SKUs (stock keeping units) of products.

"We are agro-processors with our shrimp farm in Belize where we raised and grow shrimps from our own hatchery, and we supply other farms in Belize from it. We have our cassava farm in Trelawny and a bammy factory in our Kingston plant. So we are moving up the value-added chain on the agro-processing side," Jardim said.

"We have 10 of our own industrial vessels and we buy from over 1,000 artisanal fishermen. The vessels are primarily lobster vessels across the region."

"We basically process, marinate, brine, bread, smoke, cook a few hundred SKUs, supplying every segment of the marketplace from the consumer packaged to QSRs [quick-service restaurants] — the Burger King, Wendy's, Mother's, Island Grill, KFC, etc, locally and in some of the islands across the region."

He said Rainforest Caribbean is represented in most of the major supermarkets across the region. A distribution centre was opened in St Lucia last year. In Guyana, distribution is handled by Massy Distributors "that includes representing us in their stores and all of their customer base. Trinidad has another distributor who covers the island."

Jardim said the company is proud of its role in helping to transform the seafood market in the region.

"When we came along the seafood segment was very spotty," he said.

"During the first 20 years of our operations, when we started in 1997, the representation of seafoods in both the institution sector — and I mean, hotels, restaurants, caterers and, of course, in the supermarkets — were very limited. Price points were high, packaging was very, sort of, very basic, so you would get a lot of freezer burn issues. You would see presentation on the shelves looking very, sort of — and I hate to use the word — 'Third World', but very minimal and basic. But over the years we've been able to layer on more and more references for the institutional sector, the hotels and restaurants; and as the guests have become more and more discerning, as hotels have ramped it up to take it to four and five star levels and as the demand for every kind of seafood and other proteins has become more and more discerning...without a doubt we've seen a progression on the local levels and in all of the islands in presentation, the attractiveness of packaging, being able to vacuum pack products and present them more hermetically sealed and the look and feel of the product and the quality of what goes into your fridge at home and what goes into a meal for tourists."

"We have seen all of this getting better. It is significant step forward from what is being served on tables," he concluded.

Rainforest Caribbean location in Freeport, Montego Bay (Photo: Yanic Barrett)
Rainforest Caribbean's processing plant in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Rainforest Caribbean has doubled its team members to 1,000 in the five territories in which it operates.
Workers preparing various seafood for export from Rainforest Caribbean.
Shrimp produced on farms operated by Rainforest Caribbean in Belize.
Workers at Rainforest Caribbean show off the company's lobster product.
Lobster being packaged for export from Rainforest Caribbean's operation in Belize.
Dashan Hendricks

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