Dairy Industries Jamaica Limited
A slice of Jamaican culture
Business View Caribbean interviews representatives of Dairy Industries Jamaica Limited for our focus on Best Practices in Manufacturing
For more than half a century, Dairy Industries Jamaica Limited (DIJL) has been providing high-quality dairy products to the Caribbean and beyond. The company was established in 1964 as a joint venture between the New Zealand Dairy Board and a group of Jamaican distributors.
Radcliffe Walker, DIJL’s general manager, explains, “The Company started producing canned cheese in 1968, the product appealed to a Jamaican audience because they were able to formulate it for a unique Jamaican taste.” Canned cheese was an ideal product for the Jamaican market because it is shelf-stable. “The cheese is produced in a can, you actually have to open the tin to get to the product,” says Walker. “That means that it can be stored at room temperature for long periods, one of our key value proposition. Truly convenient for areas where you do not have refrigeration or when there is a natural disaster such as a hurricane.”
Over the years the company has seen a few changes – the New Zealand Dairy Board eventually became Fonterra Co-Operative Group Limited, and in 1996, GraceKennedy purchased shares from all local dairy distributors creating a 50:50 joint venture between Fonterra and GraceKennedy.
DIJL also expanded its product line to include a range that offers much more than just canned cheese. Today, the company manufactures milk powder, yogurt, and 10 kinds of cheeses through its six separate brands: Tastee Cheese, Crest, and Cheder, which all produce cheese; This Is Really Great!, which produces yogurt; Good2Grow, a kid’s line that offers yogurt and powdered shakes; and finally, Anchor, DIJL’s powdered milk line.
They also recently inked a co-manufacturing deal with NESTLÉ to produce the company’s Everyday Milk Powder and are currently exploring additional products. DIJL, whose factory is located on Washington Boulevard in Kingston, plans to branch out to provide a more diverse line, including more cultured products. Currently, they are developing a sour cream, drinkable yogurt, and a cream cheese.
“We want to be able to spread our risk, especially since a significant percentage of our sales is generated from canned cheese,” says Karis-Ann Rhoden-Gordon, DIJL’s Business Development Manager. “The company’s performance is heavily dependent on our cheese category, so as a result, we are diversifying our product portfolio to include a wider range of dairy offerings to meet our consumer needs. These three products, while they are currently sold locally under imported brands, are the first to be commercially produced in Jamaica. And based on our market research, these products present great opportunity for growth.”
Being able to provide a wide-range of dairy products locally is a priority for DIJL. “I think it comes with a certain level of pride when consumers can access world-class products manufactured right here in Jamaica,” Rhoden-Gordon shares. “The COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted why we as an industry need to be more self-sufficient in the event of supply chain disruptions.”
DIJL’s products are offered throughout Jamaica, as well as exported to the Caribbean, USA, and Canada. Products are distributed primarily through GraceKennedy to retail stores, wholesale for bulk purchases, and to food service, including restaurants and hotels.
The company also has a strategic marketing plan that involves pairing their canned cheese with its natural partner – bun. “Our canned cheese is not only our flagship product, but it’s also a Jamaican tradition… you really can’t experience Easter without cheese,” Rhoden-Gordon says. “Now, for us Jamaicans, there’s something that goes very well with our cheese – and that’s spiced buns. Over the years we collaborated with local bakeries, a partnership that has helped us to grow both locally and abroad.”
Pairing cheese with bun in retail displays helps DIJL to increase its visibility, but also gives them the opportunity to promote Jamaican culture in its promotional displays. “This provides consumers across the world a taste of true Jamaican culture,” Rhoden-Gordon says.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for the dairy manufacturing company when the threat of the virus suspended commercial activity globally. Since a portion of their products are sold in the food service segment, which was negatively affected, the company lost a major source of their sales. They also had to develop new and creative ways to maintain brand visibility in light of consumers being confined to their homes. “Some of the challenges we experienced were not unique to us,” Rhoden-Gordon recalls. “The marketing team had to pivot and simply ensure that our products and brands remained top of mind.”
Since offering free samples in the supermarket was no longer permitted, the company had to come up with innovative ways to enhance brand experience, attract customers, encourage trial and repurchase. “We utilized banded offers in retail outlets, and increased our consumer engagement initiatives while educating consumers on the benefits of our products,” Rhoden-Gordon says. “We embarked on a hybrid communication approach leveraging digital and traditional media for those consumers who rely on newspaper and television as their main source of information.”
The pandemic also led to shortages and delays in procuring ingredients required to manufacture their products. “There were instances where we explored modified ingredients and that did impact our ability to supply our customers last year,” Walker explains. “However, we are now in a position where we better understand the impacts of the pandemic, so we are able to execute relevant plans in accordance with our business continuity model.”
Between March and June of 2020 was probably the company’s most difficult time, as the pandemic coincided with the Easter season, DIJL’s traditionally biggest sales period. “Last year we had a rare challenge, in that COVID started during the Easter season which led to numerous disruptions in raw material supply, general consumer uncertainty, and ultimately a decline in sales,” Walker says. The company’s sales fell by 20 percent last year, but are starting to recover following a good Easter season this year. Walker adds, “We have recovered approximately 50 percent of sales lost at the onset of the pandemic and we’re optimistic that the trend will continue for the remainder of the year.”
The company’s financial situation wasn’t the only priority during the pandemic. DIJL prides itself on employee satisfaction and operates under the mantra “We care.” With that in mind, they made a major push to assist their 135 employees handle the anxieties and stress which resulted from the pandemic. “We are very employee-centric; our aim is to ensure that staff wellbeing is paramount,” Rhoden-Gordon explains. “Through GraceKennedy, we offered counselling since COVID is not only challenging to the economy, but also for individuals trying to cope with the new normal.”
Now that the global economy is rebounding, DIJL is looking to the future with big plans to diversify their portfolio and expand its markets. “Export is key for us,” Walker notes. “It could be Dominican Republic, it could be South America, wherever it is, we are actively seeking new opportunities to expand our regional footprint.”
The company also plans to ensure they are always on the cutting edge of technology and new product development. “Innovation has been critical to our success over the years, and that will continue to be part of our growth plan,” Rhoden-Gordon says. “Not just innovation for our brands, but also for our partners by offering research and development support. Innovation and market expansion forms a part of our strategic initiatives that will allow us to shift the paradigm and remain relevant in an ever-changing marketplace.”
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AT A GLANCE
Dairy Industries Jamaica Limited
What: Dairy manufacturing company specializing in canned cheese
Where: Kingston, Jamaica