Salada Foods banking on authentic Jamaican resonance.
Salada Foods Jamaica Ltd.’s reputation for quality products in export markets throughout the Caribbean region – as well as North America, Europe and both the near and far East – stretches back to its founding more than half a century ago in 1958.
At its origin, the company sprang from a cooperative of growers in the Blue Mountain region who wanted to move from simply farming the raw coffee materials to processing the products and making them available in international markets. An infusion of cash and credibility arrived thanks to a partnership with the then Canadian-based Salada Tea Company, which helped the fledgling operation construct the plants that enabled processing the coffee from beans to a soluble powder form.
These days, it is the largest of four coffee processing plants in Jamaica and the only soluble coffee processing plant in the entire Caribbean region. It supplies a full complement of Jamaican coffees via roasted and ground beans, in addition to roasted whole beans and soluble instants.
Away from the island nation’s signature beaches, Jamaica’s rugged terrain caters well to coffee typically grown between 1,500 and 5,000 feet. Salada’s Premium Blue Mountain Coffee takes the flavor to another level – literally – by taking advantage of the rich, fertile and well-drained soil within a 10-mile radius of the country’s highest point, the 7,402-foot Blue Mountain Peak.
The formal link to Salada Tea ended when the Jamaican company went public as one of the first businesses listed on the island’s stock exchange. In fact, Salada Foods Jamaica Ltd. has now been run domestically for more than 40 years, according to its current managing director, Keshia Nelson-Brown.
“It has seen a bit of transition,” she said. “The last ownership change was in 2008, where the current majority shareholder bought the company from another local holder, who wanted to move into other areas of business and found a local partner who was willing to buy into the company.”
The current workforce includes 50 full-time employees – eight managers, 42 staff members – though the number spikes to around 280 during production periods, when additional people are needed for maintenance, and to operate the line that creates the coffee solution which is then spray-dried into the soluble form. Peak-time laborers are also needed for myriad warehousing duties, including packers and operators of heavy equipment, including forklifts and container transports.
Production cycles arrive three times per year and total about 140 days annually, depending on demand. The plant is running at approximately 60 percent of potential capacity, and the company has also produced 100 percent Jamaican-grown soluble ginger for the last three years after backward integrating its operations into the farming of ginger in both open fields and in shade houses.
A Salada Foods subsidiary – Mountain Peak Food Processors Limited – was created after the purchase of Roberts Products Company in 2012 and specializes in the canning of juices, vegetables and condiments. That operation is separate from the coffee production facility, which includes a 70,000-square-foot plant and 40,000 additional square feet of warehouse space on 4.5 acres.
The company’s strongest export market is the U.S., thanks to significant support from chain stores like Publix and Walmart and a good response from areas with dense Jamaican populations. It also exports to Canada, the United Kingdom and has gained traction within 17 provinces in China. Business in Jamaica is done through a distributor, which then deals directly with domestically-based retail outlets.
“We believe in the support of the Jamaican market,” Nelson-Brown said.
“We believe that if we’re operating here we need to give preferences to our local farmers. We are positioning ourselves as a company that is an authentic Jamaican company that produces things that are authentically Jamaican. We are now looking to expand into other areas – products that are unique to Jamaica – to diversify ourselves.”
Nelson-Brown said Salada has a market share of 62 percent, compared to 35 percent owned by its nearest competitor and smaller segments earned by smaller players like Nestle, which operates in the country in other areas and is thus permitted to import its coffee into the local space.
The decision to use authenticity as a branding point has paid off, too.
Salada is the lone company in the Caribbean region producing soluble Jamaican-grown ginger, and production has recently begun on briquettes that will enable users to capture a genuine Jamaican jerk taste when grilling, rather than simply relying on applying seasoning to the end-products. The briquettes will ultimately be produced at a new facility, and other products like cereal and honey are planned that Nelson-Brown hopes will resonate both domestically and internationally and allow users to combine flavors.
“It’s not a bad thing. Competition is good,” she said. “It makes us become innovative in what we do and how we do our processes, and seek to improve our workflow and improve our efficiency. It forces us to get up and look into new ways of doing things in order to ensure that we are staying ahead of the game. It is known worldwide that Jamaican coffee has a very distinct taste and profile.”
Tangible technological and financial improvement for the company is a priority for the next several years, Nelson-Brown said, and a recently enhanced market research effort will be the driving force behind upcoming new products – rather than putting products out there in hopes that they’ll succeed.
Additional revenue is also coming from agreements being made on a private-label basis, which involves an outside company negotiating a rate for products that will be manufactured and shipped by Salada, but branded and ultimately distributed with the partnering company’s labeling.
“The aim is to be around for the long haul. We don’t see the business changing hands any time soon,” she said. “We intend to maintain longevity for the foreseeable future.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Salada Foods Jamaica Ltd.
WHAT: Producer and exporter of beverages, drink mixes and dessert products to markets throughout the Caribbean region, as well as North America and European countries
WHERE: Kingston, Jamaica
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