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Tortuga House gives cake maker room to grow

Published:Friday | December 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Packages of Tortuga rum cakes on display.

Cake maker Tortuga International Holdings Limited expects to be operating at full capacity in the next five to seven years as the company ramps up exports.

For now, the newly opened Kingston factory, named Tortuga House, is producing at half its capacity.

"It doesn't make sense we go after business that we can't support," said Chief Executive Officer Marcus Simmons on a tour of the company's new home at Retirement Crescent in Cross Roads on Wednesday.

Around 12 containers equating to 200,000 pounds of Tortuga products were shipped to the United States since November. Tortuga House started production on August 15.

The factory has received Safe Quality Foods (SQF) Level 2 certification in the four months since it ramped up, said head of manufacturing, Florence Reid.

Speaking to the differences between its former manufacturing operation in Bogue, Montego Bay, and the new location, Simmons said the company has "10 times" more capacity, having installed a new multivac thermoforming machine that packages 45 to 50 cakes per minute.

The company began its relocation from Montego Bay late last year. The new site also houses warehousing, distribution and administrative facilities.

"Before we bought this machine, we would have a bag and we would stuff the cakes individually into the bag, then vacuum seal it," Reid said.

Tortuga also invested in ovens with the preprogrammed family recipe, which accommodate 140 pounds of batter per hour, resulting in more efficient production of the world-famous rum cakes. The bakery operates three ovens at a time.

The ovens can operate on either liquid petroleum gas or LNG, Simmons said.

It cost US$3.5 million to set up Tortuga House, which spans 14,000 square feet.

The factory can produce more than two million pounds of rum cake per year.

"And even though we will initially run at about 50 per cent of the plant's capacity, up to 90 per cent of the production will be for export to the USA and other Caricom counties over the next couple of years," Simmons said.

Tortuga's rum cakes are also available on more than 100 cruise ships and in 80 of the 113 US stores operated by Total Wines and More, the company said in a media release.

Last year, Tortuga secured deals with US-based 'big box' wholesale clubs, Costco and Sam's Club, to stock the rum cakes; Its wines were also licensed last year to enter the US, and Tortuga has since inked a distribution agreement with Uncorked Spirits in Texas and California.

Tortuga International was founded 31 years ago in the Cayman Islands by Jamaica-born Captain Robert Hamaty and his wife Carlene Hamaty. Jamaica Producers Group acquired the business in 2012.

Tortuga's range of products include rum cake, chocolate rum turtles with sea salt, rum balls, rum fudge, Caribbean sauces, and a Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee and rum-flavoured gourmet treat.

The company operates bakeries either directly or through franchisees or associated companies in Barbados, Cayman Islands and The Bahamas.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com