Agri-processing companies in the Caribbean are making the most of indigenous fruits and plants to access a home-grown market for food, beverage and cosmetic products.
Food and cosmetic products derived from plants, herbs and fruits found in Saint Kitts and Nevis are all made by Sugar Town Organics, an agri-processing company founded by Anastasha Elliot in 2010. She decided to focus on the use of locally grown, botanical plants and fruits after learning of certain healing properties from her Dominican Republic and African grandparents. Guava fruit, for instance, which is used in Elliot’s salad dressing has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and the passion fruit used in her hot sauce, contains vitamins A and C.
Before establishing the business, Elliot undertook a diploma and advanced diploma in organic hair and skin care formulation to supplement her knowledge, as well as a degree in culinary arts to learn how to formulate food-based products. Sugar Town now processes 30 products in its food portfolio, including jams, dips, wines and liqueurs, under the brand name Flauriel. The company’s cosmetic range, called Yaphene, processes 63 products including soaps, toothpastes, aftershaves, shampoos, skin care creams, and hair and spa products. All products are made from organically produced indigenous herbs, fruits and plants, including anise, fennel, jasmine, orchids, pink roses, soursop and tarragon.
Product prices range from €1.8 to €33.79 and, as demand spiked from 2017 to 2018, Sugar Town’s sales increased by 150%. “Many spas are directly searching for more locally produced goods to offer to their clientele,” says Elliot, explaining that this helps to cut down on the costs of importing similar products. The Tourism and Foreign Affairs Department, Park Hyatt and Marriott hotels, and other local gifting agencies, also buy Sugar Town’s products, stocking them as gifts to those visiting Saint Kitts and Nevis. Depending on the time of the year and the number of events, through these markets alone, the company generates monthly revenues of between €880 and €2,200.
The company purchases up to 90,000 g of raw produce each month from about 20 farmers, and uses small machines, like dehydrators and commercial blenders, to process the products. In the immediate future, Elliot plans on building a factory to increase production and create employment opportunities beyond her staff of four. “We plan to increase our social impact by targeting skilled youth who are released from jail and face social stigma,” she explains. In the next 5 years, Elliot aims to increase the reach of Sugar Town’s products within the Caribbean, and to target the European market.
Also selling predominantly plant-based products in the Caribbean is Tanisha Thompson, who started Natural Fusion Partners (NFP) in 2015. With an initial capital of ~ €10,500, raised from personal savings, Thompson created NFP to promote the consumption of healthy, low sugar and calorie beverages in Jamaica. NFP works with four local farmers to source the produce for her guava iced tea and aloe vera-flavoured water, targeting diabetics and health-conscious consumers.
Since its inception, NFP has sold over 850,000 l of the two beverages to local supermarkets, pharmacies and at trade fairs. The drinks are sold in 340 ml bottles for $2 (€1.78) per bottle. Annually, NFP generates nearly €21,000 and employs five local youths between 18 and 30-years-old, who are involved in processing, marketing and promotion of the beverages.
Venturing into new markets has been a
challenge for Thompson as the brand is currently only sold in two Jamaican parishes and is relatively
unknown. However, participation at agricultural exhibitions, accreditation of
product safety by the Bureau of Standards in Jamaica and validation by the
Ministry of Health, are helping to increase company awareness and consumer
confidence in NFP products.
“Agropreneurship can be challenging in Jamaica when you have scarce financing to fund various aspects of your business. As a result of the challenges, I am now more patient and persistent. I have received a lot of ‘no’s’ but I have learnt that this doesn’t have to be the final answer,” says Thompson.