Lennie Little-White | The longevity of Jamaican brands
One famous Jamaican, the late Professor Rex Nettleford, bemoaned the fact that Jamaica is a nation of “sprinters” and not “long-distance runners”. This adage is applicable to sports, but, unfortunately, for many businesses that blazed their names in the skies at the outset, today, they only have a page in the business obituaries.
Who remembers the marquee brands of Century National Bank, SuperPlus, Olint, Cash Plus, Marzoucas, Kelly’s Soft Drinks, Cremo, Eagle Merchant Bank, Stanley Motta, Daily News, The Record?
These were all indigenous brands that were not long-distance runners and never stood the test of time.
The fact that they did not last speaks to the vicious cycle of capitalism, where only the strong survive and weather the storms of business and become “long-distance runners”, making a profit with continuity and constant renewal.
My primary concern when I wrote in October about the emergence of several new marquee brands elicited voluminous responses from readers who did not fully understand the gravamen of what I wrote. Several questions were posed about why I never included brand names like the Hendricksons, the Matalons, GraceKennedy, and Wisynco.
My aim was not to create a new list of the infamous ‘21 Families’ of the ’70s. My focus then, as well as in this article, is to bring attention to the indigenous brands that are now etched in the consciousness of Jamaicans – at home and abroad. The size or names of the companies are not relevant in this analysis. All that matters is the brand that was created from scratch without family wealth or inheritance.
Yes, there are indigenous brands like Grace, Tru Juice, or WATA that emanated from family trees and evolved to become dominant players in Jamaica’s business landscape. Their places are guaranteed when the next chapter of Jamaican brands are listed in future articles.
My objective in this piece is to bring attention to and celebrate Jamaicans who, by dint of hard work and foresight, have created new brands without dependence on “old family money”.
- Arguably, one of Jamaica’s most iconic brand is Tastee Patties, which was the brainchild of Vincent Chang, who actually went to study baking in the United States before coming back in 1966 to take the patty out of the hot and oily ‘tin-pan’ and ‘glass-case’ to become the first Jamaican fast-food brand. Tastee is arguably the patty that is the ‘Gold standard’ of Jamaican patties at home and in the diaspora.
- Success always breeds competition, and decades after Tastee became a Jamaican icon like Red Stripe, along came Mother’s – the brainchild of Adrian and Richard Foreman along with Carlysle Hudson. It started out with high-end patties but soon evolved into a full-service restaurant chain, selling Jamaican meals and ice cream.
- Island Grill, with its original menu emphasising “healthy” Jamaican food options, has mushroomed into many stores across Jamaica with a footprint in Barbados. Despite her original family pedigree, Thalia Lyn decided to do it the hard way by seeking funds independent of her father, with help from her husband and a very close friend. Until Island Grill’s arrival on the food line, ‘jerk’ was a word reserved for crude cookshops over open fires with pimento sticks.
- Megamart and Bashco are now firm evidence of American-style wholesale retailers where size and good prices have become a magnet for cost-conscious shoppers. Megamart revolutionised the shopping experience by offering a wide range of products and services – grocery, bakery, haberdashery, clothing, electronics, liquor, food court, and a pharmacy – all under one roof, seven days per week, with extended closing hours. The entrepreneurial energy of Gassan Azan found a unique way to create a dominant image of each brand to fit uptown and downtown demographic profiles.
- Tropical Tours out of Montego Bay was the unique steppingstone for a native Jamaican to find a niche in Jamaica’s hospitality industry. In 1979, Ralph Smith started his ground transportation and packaged-tours company with luxury tour buses. Smith was one of the first native sons to play a significant role in tourism not just as a worker, but as an owner. The tradition has grown, having passed the baton to his son, Fred.
- If you travel the north coast hotel belt, you cannot escape the multicoloured luxury coaches of Jamaica Tours, which is arguably the biggest of its kind in Jamaica. Operating from a base in Montego Bay, Noel Sloley is the person who husbanded this company to become a key provider of ground transportation to most of the hotels between Westmoreland and St Mary.
- The creative industry is an underdeveloped sector because many of us, including financial institutions, do not understand its full potential. This did not stop the late Richard Forbes from starting Phase 3 as a provider of motion picture production facilities. Richard has made his transition, but his only son, Delano, has developed the company into the leader in its class across the Caribbean, providing world-class production facilities and crews.
- I met Joan Duncan while she was still employed to the National Commercial Bank. She told me then that big banks had no place in their hearts for the small entrepreneur. For this reason, she would leave the great Goliath to create her own little David. This was the genesis of Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB) and Merchant Bank. While Joan has made her transition, the brood she left behind has kept her vision alive to make JMMB an important player in Jamaica’s financial sector.
- There was a time when women played secondary roles in financial institutions. Rita Humphries was not prepared to just type financial statements and make coffee for the male bosses. So she went out on her own and started her own money brokerage house – Barita. Having decided to spend more time on the golf course, Rita recently retired gracefully but not before selling the very successful company to a cadre of proven businessmen who will carry on what she started, ensuring that brand ‘Barita’ never dies.
Yes, I know that there are some glaring omissions from this list of ten brands, but a columnist has a quota of words that must not be exceeded. With the support of my editor, I will conclude the series with a look at other indigenous brands that emerged and survived post-Independence, which might owe their pedigree to family largesse or ‘old money’.
Your suggestions via email will be welcome for consideration in my December edition. Remember, the focus is on indigenous brands with a national profile and not the owners or their corporate entities.