Jamaica Standard Products Limited (JSP) has its headquarters in Williamsfield, Manchester, far away from the bright lights of Jamaica's main business districts, cities and population centres, and yet it has won a trailblazer award for exports and numerous quality and production accolades.
The coffee roaster, exporter and manufacturer of spices and sauces will turn 80 on September 17, 2022, a point of pride for staff and Managing Director John O Minott whose grandfather, Montegonian Leslie Minott, decided to move to Manchester for the trade opportunities he saw in 1942.
John Minott told the Jamaica Observer that in Manchester, his grandfather "started trading in produce, following the example of Percy Junor who was then the largest trader in produce."
Leslie specialised in goat skin, cola nut (bissy), sarsaparilla, pimento, ginger, and honey. Attracted by the existing railway station access, he settled in Williamsfield which was also near to produce areas and central markets. Although the businessman constructed his home in Mandeville, Williamsfield would remain JSP's centre of operations.
Then came the Second World War in 1944 and both the island's and the world economy changed. New companies emerged including coffee roasters. Minott, also, began his first venture in roasting coffee for local sale and export. There was also an opportunity for producing cement tiles for the housing market, but, for JSP, coffee was the product which proved a successful choice and led to the birth of the Jamaica High Mountain Coffee brand in 1952, a brand which has since become famous worldwide.
Today, JSP is the largest of single grower and processor of coffee in Jamaica, exporting to markets in Europe, United States, Japan and China.
John, grandson of Leslie, told the Business Observer, "We created the High Mountain brand which subsequently became an established brand for our company."
Time passed and when Leslie died in 1972, his son Jackie Minott took over the business. Under this son, the company expanded rapidly.
In 1988 JSP acquired Baron Hall estate farm, a 300-acre property which provided access to quality product. John comments, "We had our own farmers producing. We were roasting both High and Blue Mountain Coffee [BMC] by the 1980s when we acquired Bluebarn estate in Portland."
In the early 1980s JSP was fully into roasting and packaging of both types of coffee and then backed into expanded distribution locally and on the export market.
JSP was also successful in securing a tender for retail outlet at the Sangster International Airport, the Caribbean's largest air traffic port. It has remained here for the last 40 years.
The Manchester company over time secured five specialty coffee shops located in the parish of St James, St Ann and Trelawny under the names Coffee 'n' Spice and Island Brew Café.
JSP's focus on exports and the tourism market resulted in coffee delivering the major part of company revenues over time.
It currently produces four brands of coffees as described on its website: "Island Blue® Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee; Island Brew® Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Premium Blend; Baronhall Estate® Jamaican Gourmet Coffee; and its flagship brand Jamaica High Mountain Coffee."
Minott is proud of the awards won by the company which he says validates its commitment to quality. JSP received the Monde Selection Awards (Brussels) for coffee and coffee liqueur (1984-2006) and the Monde Selection (Brussels) Grand Gold Award for its Baronhall Farms sauces.
Additionally, the Agency for the Valorization of Agricultural Products Awards (France) awarded a Gourmet Silver Certificate in the Powerful and Aromatic Category for JSP's Jamaica IslandBlue® Blue Mountain® Coffee.
It was in the early 2000s the company expanded retail for tourist centres, targeting Ocho Rios, Falmouth, Montego Bay as well as Dunn's River. The stores were an outlet for both coffee products, spices and sauces, reducing the JSP's dependence on other retailers for distribution and sale.
John joined the business in 1991 when he graduated from Florida International University (FIU). Today he has been 30 years with the family business.
Jackie, his father, set about teaching him in one year what he would have taken five years to learn as an intern or young manager in another corporation. It was a deliberate decision.
John recalls, "I know he needed help as we were expanding. He was also getting older. He admitted that whatever I would learn in another corporation he could teach in one year. He put me as general manager. He guided me along the way. He allowed me to make my mistakes and learn also by experience. He took me to board meetings where I also learnt the corporate structure. He wanted me to learn and learn fast."
The task ahead was a big one. By this time, JSP was a company employing over 100 staff on a full-time basis. Revenues had to increase to match this obligation and maintain profitability.
The Minotts continued to expand retail and develop new product lines. John said, "We started a coffee liquer and also introduced convenience products. We also added shops."
The export market was also growing as the company increased output of roasted and green beans. For the green bean segment Japan was JSP's largest market, but demand also grew in Europe, North America and China. The US is the company's main market for roast.
Exports revenue varies between 30 to 40 per cent "depending on weather conditions and market forces", outlined John.
Coffee remains today responsible for 85 per cent of revenue for JSP with the remainder of sales due to sauces, spices, and liquer.
Challenges would arise over time, including plant disease, hurricanes and general bad weather, but the ship sailed on until January 2020.
In January 2020, Jackie Minott died after a five-year battle with cancer of the bone marrow. John said, "It was a big blow even though you knew it was coming."
Two months later, he recalls, the novel coronavirus pandemic "came without any warning. Nobody in Jamaica was prepared even though we had been hearing about it." John says COVID-19 would become his biggest challenge in almost three decades.
With much of JSP's business tied up in tourism, between hotels and gift shops, 50 per cent of its business disappeared with the lockdown of the sector.
John recalls, "Everything stopped without warning. All our shops in the tourism centres, airport, cruise centre. We had to lay off staff, do redundancies, people were working on 50 per cent pay. People were also working from home.
"When a hurricane hits, you can recover in two months, but with the extended impact of COVID-19, we lost up to 75 per cent of sales in two months."
He continued: "That was the toughest experience for me. It went on for months. Thank God we had reserves but even that began to dwindle. We had to restructure. Some good came out of it as we looked at inefficiencies and retooled. Staff who remained, sacrificed a lot so the venture could continue existing."
JSP was rescued by its export markets. Even though Japan was badly affected by the COVID-19 disease, exports continued, while China and Europe recovered earlier and demand in these markets increased.
John said, "This helped us to keep afloat. But, hotels and shops locally were closed."
In 2021, with the reopening of the economy, the JSP managing director said, "We are not quite at pre-COVID levels but we are getting there."
Staff levels remain below 2019 levels, he said, "because of the effort to control costs we have not replaced it. There were areas of overstaffing identified. We also changed processes and tried to get more variable costs rather than fixed costs in the business."
When cash reserves were near exhaustion the company secured working capital from loans. "We borrowed for working capital and to keep the business afloat."
John said, "I am hoping within the next two to three years we can bounce back fully in terms of reducing debt and expanding revenue earnings."
New products are in the works and JSP is once again expanding supply of Island Cafe Express, a ready to drink and slushy drink to local convenience stores. John said, "We are trying to build this business back now because the line suffered under lockdown.
He said, "Product innovation is an ongoing thing. The market changes and one has to adapt. We are constantly experimenting. It's an expensive venture that takes capital. But it's ongoing. We are now in the process of looking at some new products."
Giving his take on the health of the economy, John said, "If you listen to the economists and government, the signs are positive, but I am personally concerned about the level of inflation. I have had three price increases since the start of the year for packaging, freight and raw materials. Source markets are affecting our pricing [but] not every single cost you can pass on. We have had to take a hit in terms of margins."
John added, "The lead time for order delivery which used to be four months from the Far East is now taking a year. It is miserable.
"The spending power of Jamaicans is also diminishing because salaries are not keeping pace with inflation. It has been a challenge. I am concerned."
However, John counsels other entrepreneurs, "Stay focused. Keep working harder and smarter. Keep abreast of the times and focus on your goals. Don't give up. Jamaica is still one of the best places despite the crime. With all of the infrastructure development, even in Manchester, there are new opportunities.
Mandeville, with the extension of the highway, will take off as a place to live and to do business."
Looking to the future, John says his daughters Kelsey, third-year university student in Florida, and Danielle, a sixth-form science student and his nephew Damien who currently lives in Chicago in the US might join the family business in time. Kelsey and Damion both have expressed interest in returning to the island. He adds that the company has an experienced and competent management team, so "there are options."