Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
Marley Coffee announced via press release last week that it is about to release a new coffee blend that includes one-fifth Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee (JBM), calling it a first for North America.
The Coffee Industry Board, which licences JBM and oversees its distribution in local and foreign markets, said it was unaware of the product.
The Marley Coffee release said the company had received certification from the Jamaican commodity board to create and sell its 'Smile Jamaica' blend, which it described as 20 per cent JBM and 80 per cent Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee.
Pamela Hutchinson of the Coffee Board's licensing department said last Wednesday that while Marley Coffee was certified to sell JBM, no product dilution for the North American market had been approved.
However, senior attorney Maria Gayle later said neither herself nor Hutchinson was authorised to speak on behalf of the board, while noting that Acting Director General Steve Robinson was away in Japan.
John O. Minott, the current chairman of the Jamaica Coffee Exporters' Association (JCEA), indicated concern.
"This is news to me," he said of the Marley Coffee announcement.
"There are reservations about how coffee blends are done and the whole Blue Mountain name has to be properly protected. There is a challenge in general with blends. There is a minimum 30 per cent which is required, not 20 per cent. I know of no one exporting any blends."
Minott is also owner of the Baron Hall coffee estate and managing director of Jamaica Standard Products Limited.
Two other coffee sources confirmed the 30 per cent requirement.
Balram Vaswani, who heads up the Jamaican and Caribbean operations of Marley Coffee, said the company would comment on Monday.
Jason Sharp, a member of the Jamaica Coffee Processors Association, said he is aware that Marley Coffee presented a blend to the Coffee Board for approval.
The Coffee Board website indicates that Marley Coffee is a certified dealer in roasted JBM. There are six dealers certified for non-Jamaican coffee, but Marley Coffee is not named among them.
The company said in its release issued on October 2 that the blend is the first authorised in North America, and would be distributed in Marley Coffee RealCups and 8oz Marley Coffee bags.
"Certification to create and sell the 'Smile Jamaica' blend was provided by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica as a result of the company's successful US launch of Marley Coffee's JBM, one of the largest-ever launches of pure, certified JBM in North America," said the release.
Marley Coffee, which is the trade name under which Jammin Java Corp operates, says it has distributed approximately 30.5 tons or about 61,000 pounds of JBM coffee within the last year, with sales anchored by distribution into key retailers like Safeway.
Christopher Gentles, former director general of the Coffee Board, was also quoted in the company's release as saying: "Marley Coffee's significant accomplishment in placing its coffees on to North American supermarket shelves, I believe, justifies the board's decision to grant this certification to the company. Marley Coffee is well qualified to create the first Jamaican Blue Mountain blend for consumers."
However, Gentles, who left the board four months ago, on May 20, and is now farm manager for Jamaica Producers Group, told Sunday Business he did not recall comments on a new blend, but that he had commended Marley Coffee for growing distribution channels in North America for JBM.
"We normally certify only the 100 pure coffee for sale. Blends give the board severe problems in certifying the quality of the product. I can't recall Marley Coffee having a certified blend," he said.
He said that at least five local companies have been certified to sell blends according to specifications for local sale.
Sharp identified his company, Coffee Traders Limited, as one of them, saying a certified 20 per cent Rainforest blend is sold through Coffee Traders' retail chain, Café Blue. The blend is 20 per cent JBM, he said.
"With regards to blends, a very large percentage of JBM sold internationally is used for blending, therefore this is not uncommon," said Sharp, an active member of the Jamaica Coffee Processors Association, who was also quoted in the Marley Coffee release commending the company on the new blend.
Gentles said the Coffee Board may want to look into certifying blends for sale abroad.
"I would rather have a certified blend that I know we can control. It would be better to have a blend which the board certifies here than to have uncontrollable blending in the marketplace," he told Sunday Business.
Gentles said it was unlikely that JBM is being blended with other local coffee. "The quantities of high- mountain coffee are very small," he said.
Jammin Java/Marley Coffee is headquartered in the United States. Its principal shareholder and chairman is Rohan Marley.