Sun | Mar 18, 2018

New home, expansion for Carita

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
Carita Limited CEO Rita Hilton and an unidentified employee show off produce exported by the company in this august 2017 file photo. Carita will be relocating its operations to newly acquired premises in Kingston in February and is making plans to expand into production.

The Kingston property acquired by Carita Limited from Salada will become the food distribution company's new home in February, providing the base from which it will later diversify into production, according to CEO Rita Hilton.

Coffee company Salada Foods Jamaica disclosed this month that it had sold its land and building at Norwich Avenue to Carita for $39 million.

Hilton said that it would take up to $15 million more of investment to retrofit the complex for her operation, including the addition of energy-saving and eco-friendly drying equipment for new product lines.

"We will be relocating in the New Year. Unfortunately, by the time we concluded the sale, we hit the Christmas season, and we could not do the kind of upgrade that we wanted to. We can't move in January as I had hoped. February is the scheduled date," she said.

The Carita CEO said that 2018 would be a year of change for the fresh-food exporter, which plans to expand into convenience foods and other value-added production.

At the same time, Carita is partnering with Caribbean marketplace to ramp up sales online, while also building out its own online platform, "which will go on stream in early 2018", said Hilton.

"We haven't seen any sales yet, but we are hoping we will be able to expand that," she said.

Carita currently operates out of the state-run Agro-Invest Centre on Spanish Town Road in Kingston. It has been exporting food for 30 years, including fresh fruit under the Carita Premium brand. And with demand from two American bakeries for breadfruit flour, the company has outsourced production of the gluten-free product to take advantage of that market.

The family-owned company sources fresh produce from farms throughout Jamaica, which it supplies year round to markets in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Ninety-five per cent of the business is exports, but the company is also working with a local distributor to drive up sales in its home market.




Carita's most lucrative product is yam, which comprises 70 per cent of exports, followed by scotch bonnet pepper.

The new facility at Norwich Avenue is over 12,000 square feet and "much larger" than the space occupied by Carita at Agro-Invest Centre, Hilton said.

"I liked Spanish Town Road for the facility and the closeness to the port, but it's not big enough for what we want to do. Also, the rest of the building had not been refurbished so that we could expand into adjoining warehouses. That was the limiting factor," she said.

Carita will finance the retrofitting of the Norwich office complex from internal resources, which Hilton said meant that it would take time to finalise installation of recycling and energy-saving equipment.

"We are just doing the budget now for the refurbishing. We want to be green. We want to recycle the water. We will have to do the project in stages because we are looking at a budget of $10 million to $15 million to achieve those savings and synergies with being eco-friendly," she said.

In the first phase of the move to Norwich Avenue, the company plans to focus on its core distribution function, but in the second phase, it plans to ramp up to value-added products.

It will require the addition of drying capacity, either using solar technology or other sources that give Carita the consistent product quality it desires.

"We are looking flour from breadfruit, cassava, and sweet potato, and then we are also looking at using scotch bonnet pepper for more value added. We ship a lot of it in the fresh stage. We are looking at drying, flaking, powder all those kinds of things," Hilton said.

The company is also weighing production of convenience foods, but Hilton said that Carita was still in the "think tank" phase of this initiative.

"People are busy and want more of this. We are in the experimental stage, the think tank stage, looking at what products we can convert most easily," she told Gleaner Business.

Hilton said that new lines are likely to hit the market in 2018. Initially, Carita will outsource production, starting with convenience foods, and later bring the business back inhouse.

"We are now looking at package design. we are hoping to hit both local supermarkets and exports," she said.

Carita will lean on its own cash flows to fund its diversification programme, but Hilton said that the company is not adverse to outside financing. The company is looking to enter into talks with the Development Bank of Jamaica around soft loans.

The company expects to add more workers to its current complement of 30-plus as it expands.