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Teamaker Perishables Jamaica to add new factory

Published:Thursday | January 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Norman Wright, CEO of Perishables Jamaica Limited.

By the end of the year, tea manufacturer Perishables Jamaica Limited plans to commission a second factory in south Manchester.

Chief Executive Officer Norman Wright says the company, which packages its products in Kingston, is investing $30 million to shift some of Perishables' manufacturing process to the new locale.

That capex includes new equipment as well as the $15 million already spent on acquiring a 10,000 square feet, old garment factory in Hermitage, Manchester, that the company is now working to retrofit.

With the move, the teamaker also plans to double its grinding capacity, which will eventually feed its other business lines such as contract packaging, or co-packing, which Perishables handles for nine producers.

Perishables also sells ground herbs and spices to Jamaican Teas Limited, local producers of Tetley Tea.

"Longterm, we are going to move some of the processing and manufacturing down there (Manchester). Some aspects, like the storage and grinding of raw material and testing, should be better achieved in that space," Wright said.

Perishables started operations 36 years ago.

"It was one of the many cross roads in 1980 when I didn't have much to do except to start a business because most businesses were closing down," said Wright.

In the early stages, the company offered management consultancy services "because that's the service that we were able to sell to companies," he said.

Five years into its existence, teas became the focus. Now, Perishables boasts two lines: Tops, which has 16 products in the portfolio; and Sipacupa Ital Jamaican, which has eight products.

Its tea flavours include neem, guinea hen weed, Jamaican vervain, turmeric, and ginger, among others.

Perishables also experimented with exporting fruits and other 'perishable' items, leading to the coining of the company's name.

"But we found that we 'perished' in many respects so we moved from that into dried herbs and spices," Wright said of the company's business evolution.

Perishables employs 16 full-time staff and about 14 seasonal workers. The company is supported by a network of small farmers spread across the island, as well as its own 20-acre farm in south Manchester on which it grows most of the herbs needed for the teas it makes.

Wright also plans to push for entry into the Barbadian market this year. It already exports to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and The Bahamas through a number of foreign distributors.

Locally, Tops and Sipacupa products are distributed through Cari-Med Limited.

Wright wants to grow exports to 65 per cent of total output in two to three years, up from the current 53 per cent. He is also eyeing 20 per cent more market share within the same time frame.

The market push will be facilitated by new and more diversified products.

"We have six products that we are working on, that we want to get into areas like Germany and France," Wright said

Perishables is "driven by research and development and there are around 80 herbs, unique to us, that we have a grand opportunity to use to go along the value chain. That is part of what we are hoping to do instead of just producing tea bags," he said.

Trained in laboratory technology, Wright plans to use his recent studies in alternative medicine to guide the evolution of the company's offerings.

Among the plans is a farm tour of the Manchester site to be pitched as an eco-tourism product.

"We see an opportunity to create a herbal garden and get some possible revenue streams coming in," he said.

Last December, the company was awarded Green Exporter of the Year at the second annual Caribbean Exporter of the Year Awards hosted by the Caribbean Export Development Agency.

Perishables cut its electricity bill by 85 per cent with a switch to solar under a Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) loan.

The tea company was among the first local companies to commercially package local herbs, placing them on not just the regional, but the international markets.

The company plans to remain private, but Wright is not ruling out the possibility of floating Perishables' shares down the line.

"We certainly will look at that possibility as a means to resolve some of the challenges that we face," he said.