Big plans for breadfruit
Jamaican mechanical engineer's product on shelves in 10 US statesWednesday, February 17, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
WHILE watching the documentary series The Foods That Built America, Javion Blake discovered the origins of the American potato chip and how it became a culinary staple. It made him think of his childhood in Woodlands district, Hanover, and how much his family enjoyed fried breadfruit.
A mechanical engineer by profession, Blake was fascinated by the process that made the potato chip America's number one snack. He's eager to make a similar impact with Jus Chill International Breadfruit Chips, which he launched last March, almost a year after he watched the documentary that set him on this path.
Jus Chill is based in Denver, Colorado, where the 32-year-old Blake now lives. A graduate of University of Technology, Jamaica, he moved to the United States in 2009 to study mechanical engineering at Montana State University. Now he's focused on making his breadfruit chips a household name.
After initially selling his product through Amazon, it's now available in retail stores in Colorado, New York, Florida, Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada, Georgia, Illinois, and Minnesota.
“Initially, the strategy to launch the breadfruit chips was to visit many retail outlets and introduce potential customers to taste tests. We did our first launch event with the World Trade Center Denver in March,” said Blake.
When the novel coronavirus pandemic made it almost impossible to host other events, the company was nimble enough to adjust.
“We quickly adopted a strategy to focus on online, e-commerce, which allows us to still get some market recognition. The pandemic did… hinder the taste test, [a step] which is very essential in developing a market for a new food product. However, we still did the best we could to connect with potential customers at a local farmers' market,” Blake explained.
There were other hurdles that came with getting a business up and running during a pandemic. For example, with travel disruptions that kept him from interacting with suppliers in Jamaica, the efficiency of their logistics operation also suffered. However, Blake is determined that the venture, funded from his salary and investment-minded friends, will succeed.
His confidence in his product is obvious. He took Jus Chill International Breadfruit Chips to the market just months after travelling to Jamaica for discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture and other Government agencies on how to obtain export clearances and establish ties with breadfruit farmers. His company's biggest suppliers are from his home parish, as well as St James, Westmoreland, St Elizabeth, and Trelawny.
This steady source of breadfruits has enabled Blake and his “lean” team (supported by contract labour, as needed) to ship as many as 500 bags of product monthly. Most of the demand is in Colorado, where the chips are sold in popular outlets like Ruby's Market in Denver and Pacific Market in Aurora.
Given the competitiveness of the chips market, attracting a niche clientèle is critical, Blake explained.
“We have a very diverse segment of the market that consumes our products. They range from transplants who grew up in countries where [breadfruit] is a popular staple. [These are places] such as… the Caribbean, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, and Africa. [We also have] local health food enthusiasts who had never heard of breadfruit until it was introduced to them through our products,” said Blake.
He also reaches a specific set of clients through a retailer that's close to University of Denver.
“Many of the patrons there are just college students looking to get some ethnic flavours into their diet when it is time to snack. Others might include customers that have grain or gluten intolerance [and who] have been frustrated with the options they have for healthy snacking, [so they] openly welcome an alternative to plantain or potato chips. Another major advantage is the low glycaemic index of breadfruit, which makes [it] a good alternative for diabetics [who should avoid] traditional snacks, such as potato or artificially-sweetened snacks,” he added.
Now he just has to get past his most challenging hurdle: getting a consistent supply of product to customers.
That is something Blake and his team plan to address in the first quarter of 2021. They not only expect to increase the quantity, but expand Jus Chill's line.
“We anticipate growing our product offerings, increasing the number of retail shelves that we currently have products on, increasing our import quantities, and bringing breadfruit to parts of the United States that have never known the fruit until we introduced [it to] them,” he said confidently.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login