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Jamaica Producers brands fresh fruit arm

Published:Friday | June 24, 2016 | 6:00 AMTameka Gordon
General Manager of JP Tropical Foods, Neil Crum-Ewing.
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JP Tropical Foods, the snacks and fresh fruit arm of Jamaica Producers Group, is reorganising operations out of St Mary to promote its fresh fruit line.

The company wants to create recognition for its fruits, akin to the market presence of the chips business, said Neil Crum-Ewing, general manager of JP Tropical.

The fresh produce, encom-passing pineapples and ripe bananas, are being branded JP Farms and tagged 'Jamaican fresh'.

"What we want people to know is ... just as you have St Mary's as a snack brand, you now have JP Farms as a fresh produce brand under the JP umbrella," the general manager said.

"We are reorganising in terms of the brand that we use and the message that we send to our consumers to encompass all the products that we do," he said.

While its pineapple variety has been around for some five years, JP Tropical is now increasing the acreage to supply the fruit year round.

An 80 per cent increase in acreages and threefold increase in production is targeted for the pineapple farm.

The pineapple variety grown by JP, known in the fresh fruit trade as 'cheese pine', has a softer consistency than the traditional pineapple and has received "very good" reception from the retail and hotel trades, Crum-Ewing said.

"Whereas the traditional variety comes about at particular points of the year, this variety should be continuous. We are going bigger with the same variety because it is more consistent of quality and sizing, and it can be grown for a long period," he said.

JP Tropical currently sells some 25 per cent of fresh fruit produced to the hospitality market, 40 per cent to supermarkets and the other 35 per cent supplies the wholesale trade, which takes in sales through vendors in the markets and street fruit vendors.

The company has formed a few new partnerships to push the projected increase in output, including grocers MasterMac, and is forging deeper relationships with existing partners such as Sandals and some Spanish hotels, Crum-Ewing said.

JP Foods sells fresh produce through grocery chains Progressive, Loshusan, MegaMart and Hi-Lo; and has an exclusive arrangement with PriceSmart, which only carries pineapples and bananas from the company.

Part of the plan for the fresh produce project includes improvements to plant and packaging facilities. Crum-Ewing was imprecise on the level of investment, saying only that it may fall below $100 million.

Improvements will be made to crop cultivation techniques, equipment, as well as "the structure of our team, in terms of our pack houses and the finishing of our products," he said, noting the plans are still be finalised.

As part of the process to launch JP Farms, the company is also planning various promotions incorporating street vendors.

Already, amid the summer slowdown as schools count down to the holidays, vendors have started to pack at least two chips products in the bags of bananas they sell.

"Schools are basically out and that changes people purchasing patterns, so what we are doing is adding something extra to encourage people to buy. We also want people to feel the change of our brand," Crum-Ewing said.

In the coming weeks, promotional items such as water bottles will also be added to the banana packets to entice customers.

JP Tropical also made good on its promise to add more products to the chips line under the St Mary's brand with a kettle-cooked Irish potato chip line.

"We basically put a Caribbean twist in potato chips. We have flavours like Caribbean sea salt, calypso, barbeque and sea salt with hot pepper," said Crum-Ewing.

The potato chips will launch in the eastern Caribbean before the end of the year.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com