Caribbean condiment exports heat up

From sweet preserves to spicy sauces, regional condiment agro-processers are investing in certification and standardisation in order to sustainably enter the highly developed international ethnic and gourmet export markets.

Baron Foods Ltd. exports 50% of its production to over 25 countries © Baron Foods Ltd.

The value of the global condiment market is expected to rise to €20.29 billion by 2020, with urbanisation, higher disposable incomes, and growing interest in world cuisine increasing the demand for exotic sauces in North America and Europe. International sales of sauces and mixed condiments from Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries is less than €44 million, presenting an opportunity to harness the export and growth potential of Caribbean condiment brands and novel products.

The Caribbean’s main spice and condiment crops are hot peppers, nutmeg, mace, pimento, ginger and cinnamon, with key exports coming from Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. In the 1970s, Jamaica’s Busha Browne Company became the first regional agro-processor to export jerk seasoning (a spice mix native to Jamaica) to the US. Today the firm also exports to Australia, Canada, England and New Zealand. In fact, Jamaica recently took a giant step to support its jerk seasoning exporters’ by becoming the first English-speaking Caribbean country to register an indigenous product, ‘jerk’, under the international geographical indication system.

Winston Stona, known as the ‘Condiment King of Jamaica’ is a co-founder of Busha Browne, and is recognised as being instrumental in building and shaping the speciality food industry. “The ethnic food market in the US is very strong and, by law, companies have to allow for purchases of at least 10 to 15% from minority-owned firms,” Stona reveals. “This puts an extraordinary market right at the Caribbean’s doorstep and with a large diaspora in Atlanta, Chicago, Florida, Georgia, New York and South Carolina, we can sell to ‘our own’. We can also reach new customers through tourism, as food and tasting is very much part of the travel experience.”

Stona observes that one of the weaknesses of Caribbean condiment manufacturers is poor packaging: “Because labelling and the other requirements for export are expensive, new exporters’ need to be patient and first become established in their home markets. Agro-processors also need to invest in trademark registration prior to exporting, development of marketing and promotional materials, and undertake regular visits to build relationships in their export markets. New exporters can also ‘test the market’ by first supplying food service firms as this option will reduce packaging costs.” Stona also believes that regional condiment exporters should collaborate to solve some of their current challenges. “Access to a reliable, cost-effective supply of bottles is hampering production so, by working together, manufacturers’ will be able to obtain better economies of scale,” he explains.

Another Caribbean brand which has successfully internationalised is Baron Foods Ltd. of St. Lucia, which exports more than 50% of its production to over 25 countries from across the Caribbean, East Asia, Europe, the Indian Ocean and North America. Baron Foods is also the first regional agro-processor to break into the Cuban market. According to Ronald Ramjattan, CEO of Baron Foods, “Consistency of quality, packaging, delivery and word of mouth referrals enables me to work around my greatest challenge, which is confined budgets for marketing and advertising.”

Baron Foods has satisfied the main standards and certification criteria required for exporting, and operate according to international food safety standards of FSSC 22000:2010. Their products also comply with US Food and Drug Administration rules and adhere to EU labelling standards. With three laboratories, Baron Foods invests heavily to ensure consistency of quality and flavour. “Regional condiment exporters’ must produce consistent quality and continuously invest in market intelligence in order to satisfy the demands of their export markets,” states Ramjattan.

“Exporting within CARICOM can be challenging – as there remains some degree of protectionism through the erection of non-tariff barriers such as additional trading documents required, new levies and duties, slow government response time and even the movement of labour – but exporting is an ongoing journey of survival, and Caribbean firms have to innovate and create niche products in order to target their markets,” Ramjattan concludes.

Note: Busha Browne and Baron Foods have worked to promote regional trade and agribusiness development in the Caribbean through their involvement in the Caribbean Agribusiness Forums, organised by CTA, the Caribbean Agri-Business Association and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

Natalie Dookie

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.