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Food entrepreneurs cook up a storm in 2019

As featured in the Jamaica Observer on January 5, 2020:

Pure Chocolate's creative and artistic packaging
Pure Chocolate's creative and artistic packaging

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.”

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