Sweetie Confectionery, producer of authentic Caribbean fruit flavoured hard candies has forged a partnership with 2 established distribution companies in the United Kingdom. Ashanti Imports and JLB Shipping have agreed to distribute the company’s hard candy products into Caribbean stores across England where an estimated 4% of persons are of Jamaican heritage.
This marks Sweetie’s first major export effort into the Jamaican Diaspora. “Truth is, I hadn’t expected to be exporting this quickly”, explained Patria-Kaye Aarons, CEO of Sweetie. “I knew it was important to secure markets outside of Jamaica if the business was going to not only be sustainable but profitable, however that objective I really didn’t think possible until year 2 of operation.”
Her export plans were fast tracked because of the Business to Business matchmaking session facilitated by the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) at the recently staged Diaspora Conference.
Vice President for Export and Market Development at (JAMPRO), Robert Scott said, “One of the main mandates at JAMPRO is to develop exporter capacity and create routes to market for export clients. All our strategies and executions have this common goal in mind and the Business-to-Business Matchmaking sessions at the Diaspora Conference were deliberately designed to do this. We wanted to ensure that local SMEs had the opportunity to make connections with manufacturers and distributors in the Diaspora.”
“Our SMEs have the products and the targeted delegates visiting the conference would have the connections within their respective markets; this brings the perfect ‘matchmaking opportunity’ for companies like Sweetie Confectionary, who was able to garner success for export to the UK,” explained Scott.
The Business-to-Business (B2B) Matchmaking session is one customised product developed by JAMPRO to narrow the gap between local and diaspora SMEs. JAMPRO played a facilitating role between both stakeholders looking to create a mutually commercial benefit. The activity focused on one-to-one pre-scheduled meetings aimed at assisting local companies in accessing partnerships and equity funding to grow and expand their businesses, attracting investment flows for approximately 50 viable “ready to go” projects (using the diaspora as a primary target) and facilitated linkages between manufacturers and distributors of Jamaican-made products.
Ashanti Imports proprietor Noel Dempster is one of a few Jamaicans in London importing and selling Jamaican products. He points out that most Jamaican manufacturing companies don’t realize the demand for the distinctive Jamaican flavours. He also cautions that product quality keeps many from being export ready.
“Quality is crucial. Jamaican manufacturers need to realize it’s them against the world. Not only are your products competing with similar ones from CARICOM, but there is also competition from the Common Wealth and the rest of the world. Whatever you hope to export has to stand up well to these competitors.” He suggests that should Sweetie hope to find success in London, it must maintain the product quality it has started out with.
Aarons estimates that with the addition of the London market, her projected sales figures for 2015 will increase by at least 25%. Already, the first shipment of Sweetie goods transported by Ashanti has arrived in London, and a second order has been placed.
Sweetie is one of only two companies making candy commercially in Jamaica. Aarons is riding on the ‘Buy Jamaica’ ticket, which is gaining traction particularly in the Diaspora markets. “Sweetie was borne out of a need to serve Jamaicans. Out of a need to serve 2.7 million people who were eating candy in flavours they couldn’t relate to. There are another 9 million Jamaicans the world over that I want to reach”, and I’m actively seeking distributors to take me there”.
Ideally, Aarons is aiming for 60% of Sweetie’s revenue to be generated from outside of Jamaica by 2020. This will be crucial to hedge against foreign exchange fluctuations. “The intention is to share a little piece of paradise with Jamaicans, wherever they may be. We know full well that there are many Jamaicans that for whatever reason are unable to come back home and have a piece of Jackfruit. My intention is to remind them of that taste without the plane ride”.
“Financing production will be my next hurdle” adds Aarons. “Having secured the business, I’ll have to ensure that I can afford to supply the goods when Ashanti and JLB need them.” She laments that financing the business has been her biggest challenge to date, but one she has been able to overcome creatively at every juncture. Her first round of financing came from an insurance cheque and her saved pension.
Already, Aarons has gotten strong interest for export to St. Croix. She adds that with this momentum, she now has readjusted her targets, and is aiming to enter the US market by Christmas 2015.
Sweetie is also currently available in 100 locations across Jamaica.