Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor
Jamaica-born millionaire Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, creator and owner of the Black Farmer sausage, chicken, beef and sauces, was in the island last week as keynote speaker at the NCB Nation Builder Awards function. From humble beginnings, the entrepreneur-turned-politician now enjoys the comforts of millionaire status, something he has earned by hard work and perseverance. Flair spoke with Emmanuel-Jones at New Kingston's fabulous Spanish Court Hotel about his present and future plans.
Now firmly established in the United Kingdom (UK), The Black Farmer brand is setting its sights on Jamaica, and rightly so. This son of the Frankfield, Clarendon, soil believes that bringing his brand home is the next important step for his business. And not only will he distribute here, he is looking at taking up opportunities for making more sauces, coffee and pepper production, among other ventures.
But where did the name Black Farmer originate?
"My product name came from a classic example in life, he said, lips tinged with a wry smile. "Out of adversity can come opportunity. If you are the only black person in an area, that has to be an advantage, so your challenge is to look for the advantage it presents you. That is my philosophy," Emmanuel-Jones explained. So when he acquired his 40-acre farm in Dover, England, and became the only black man to do so, the neighbours did not know what to make of him or how to refer to him, so he simply became "the black farmer" to them.
As Emmanuel-Jones tells it, when the time came to find a name for his product line, his gut told him to call it The Black Farmer. "But my advisors and many friends and associates thought it was a bad idea. I just felt it in my gut that it was the right name. There is no science to going with your gut but you have to trust it, so I stuck with my good gut feeling about the name, and today it is worth a fortune, Emmanuel-Jones told Flair in reference to his £8-million brand value. That put an end to the initial feeling that the name would offend people.
But getting to the present was fraught with hardships in the life of a youth who didn't finish school. The turning point came when, at age 17, he decided that he didn't have to live a life of poverty and without much opportunity. "I had a mental switch and I knew that to get on in life, I would have to change so I could become part of the host community and be accepted by them," said Emmanuel-Jones who emigrated with his family at age four.
The Black Farmer said he realised pretty early in life that outsiders bring change because they think about things differently, ask who made the rules and who said things have to be this way. "The worst thing you can say to me is, "I can't or it's not possible. There is a price to pay, but everything is possible," he said, explaining why he turned his life around. An attempt to enlist in the army was not successful, but her did not give up.
His next step was cooking school and he became a chef, but didn't want to be one all his life, realising that he would never get enough money to buy the farm of his dreams. Plus, he noted, "It was a restricted profession where the way you progressed up the ladder depended on how other people felt about you. I did not want to be trapped in a situation where my progress was dependent on what others thought about me."
However, that experience set the stage for his future, and having worked first as a chef, then spent 10 years making television food programmes, he launched his first business - a food and drink marketing agency. "Looking back, everything I went through got me into a position where I could launch my own brand. I learnt how to prepare food, how to communicate it then how to market it. By the time I came to launch my own brand, I had done my life schooling, so I knew how to make it work,' he said.
Emmanuel-Jones recalls the initial stages of marketing his sausages. "I tried every supermarket to get them to list it, but they all said no. The first one to give me a break was ASDA." But as consumer confidence grew, it gained in popularity and is now carried in all supermarkets in the UK.
So how did it feel to make his first million pounds? "It was a massive struggle to get support from banks initially, but the moment you make the first million, everyone wants to get in touch with you. Everyone wants to do business now. It's a critical stage because you cannot allow that to run away with you and you have to remember the struggle to that point," he said.
Emmanuel-Jones becomes serious when he rewinds his mental clock, adding that finally reaching millionaire status gives you a lot of choices. Along with his wife of 18 years, he is now able to send his children to the best schools in the country, he owns three properties, drives the best cars, and enjoys the little things that make life easier.
He said he is also able to lay the foundation for his children so they don't have to struggle like he did, but can have what was he deprived of as a child. However, he makes his three children realise they have personal responsibilities. His daughter, at 14, has her brand of sausage and wants to be a child psychologist; one of his sons wants to be a chef and the other will be studying business. proud papa hopes they will all join him in the business one day.
There have been many negative reports about the racial prejudice felt by West Indians in England in the '50s and '60s, so I asked Emmanuel-Jones to recall the saddest day of his life as a black man in Britain. He said once, when he was unemployed, he responded to a newspaper ad for a chef. "I had no money, so I walked three miles to the destination and when I knocked on the door, it was opened by a white woman. The expression on her face told me even before she spoke that she was shocked I was a black man. And, although she was very polite in telling me the job had gone, I knew it was because of my skin colour that she said so. I will always remember that," he said.
But among his life lessons is that when people see him for the first time they are shocked because the way he speaks does not match what they expect to see. He noted that he always has to help ease them over the initial shock by explaining himself.
Conversely, the happiest day of his life was the day he bought his farm, "I had carried the dream of owning it for 40 years, I was brought up in the inner-city of Birmingham, we were deprived, there were 11 of us in a cramped space. My oasis was my father's allotment and my soul just craved a farm, so I knew that eventually I wanted to be on a farm to be at peace in an environment I loved. It took me 40 years to get there, but that was what my soul craved," he said.
Cows and pigs are raised on the 40-acre farm with horses due to come next. The property also has a guest house called Scarlett's Barn, for short vacation rentals. The place is run by a staff of 11, and during the busy time temporary staff is used. The food production is handled by a manufacturer, because, in Emmanuel-Jones' own words, "That is not my skill base; partnerships and collaboration are important, you can't do it all. My own recipe and quality control people are there, but they manufacture and distribute it for me." See the conclusion in next Sunday's Outlook for more on his life as a politician, future pursuits and more.