Sun | Jun 24, 2018

Southside Distributors to double canned ackee, venture into farming

Published:Friday | July 7, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
In this 2011 file photo, Denese Palmer of Southside Distributors dispalys some of her products.

Southside Distributors Limited, which operates from Comma Pen in St Elizabeth, will increase factory output and also venture into farming by the end of 2018, says CEO Denese Palmer.

The company has already secured financing from the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) for in-factory upgrades to boost efficiency.

Southside manufactures and supplies jerk seasoning, sauces, canned juices, canned ackees, and canned callaloo to domestic and international markets.

The investment, facilitated by financing from the development bank, was in the region of $10 million, Palmer said. The DBJ loan was priced below 10 per cent.

New equipment to be purchased includes a filler to automate the ackee production line and increase the number of cases produced from 10,000 annually to twice that amount.

The new volumes, she said, are intended for export. Palmer explained that while Southside has a big market in local hotels, more than 60 per cent of the product is exported. The United Kingdom and Canada are the company's biggest export markets.

Southside is also hiring a new chief operating officer and at least 10 additional staff.

The food-processing company was established in 2006 and operates a 5,080-square-foot plant in Comma Pen, near Junction in St Elizabeth. The company is owned by Denese Palmer, Casieka Dunkley and Cassiena Dunkley. The company now employs 43 workers.

Palmer has a background in quality control systems and quality management, food safety and food chemistry.

Eleven years into its operation, Southside is now working on plans to grow its own raw material in order to address supply challenges. In the medium term, Palmer said the company is trying to tie down financing to develop an ackee orchard and farm other crops that are primary inputs for the Comma Pen factory.

Southside, she said, would enter primary production "to alleviate the shortage and high price point of supplies in some fresh produce that we heavily rely on."

The CEO said she was confident of positive returns from the new initiatives under way, as her team had done "a lot of planning, measuring and testing" to prepare for the expansion.

Orders for ackee in 2017 are already twice the amount received last year, Palmer said, adding that demand is expected to continue growing at a similar pace in periods ahead.