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JP Tropical expands snack line

Published:Friday | November 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Plans to ramp up Jamaican factory in 2015

Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter

ACTING ON a promise to shareholders to refresh its snack portfolio, a move aimed at reclaiming ground from imports, Jamaica Producers Group (JPG) has rolled out another eight flavoured chips bearing the St Mary's brand, under a $10-million investment.

The company last week launched five plantain chips snacks and reintroduced its cassava chips with flavoured varieties aimed at boosting sales by some 25 per cent for the JP Tropical Division, said Neil Crum-Ewing, general manager of JP Tropical Foods Limited.

Crum-Ewing said JP Tropical distributes 500,000 to 700,000 packets of the St Mary's brand weekly.

The additions include a cinnamon, spicy jerk, and chilli lime plantain chips, as well as sour cream and onion cassava chips, and a new-look banana chips package. The ripe and green plantain chips are also being reintroduced in new packaging.

The new snacks are manufactured in Dominican Republic, but the company plans to bring home production of some chips by early 2015, Crum-Ewing said. Jamaica Producers owns and operates a factory in DomRep through Antillean Foods Inc.

"Some of the reasons for launching the products from that factory is that we are launching at the end of a hurricane season and Dominican Republic has less hurricanes than Jamaica," he said.

It also had the capacity, requiring no new investment at the plant to handle the increased volume, he added.

The raw material for the DomRep factory, which was fully acquired in January 2013, is sourced from farmers in that country, said Crum-Ewing. JP Tropical has increased its orders for supplies to produce the new snack flavours, he said.

"We don't operate a farming operation in Dominican Republic, we buy raw material from farms, so we had to acquire more raw material; we are increasing our production of cassava planted in Jamaica for 2015," said Crum-Ewing.

Jamaica Producers has for some time laid plans to increase snack production inside Jamaica. This will commence next year.

"In early 2015, we plan to make the banana and cassava products in Jamaica as well because we are going to sell them in the export market," he said, even while noting that the snacks made in Jamaica will cater primarily to the local market.

The $10m spend on the new snacks was shared between marketing and product development, said Jeffrey Hall, group managing director for Jamaica Producers.

The new St Mary's snacks are sold in 40- to 45-gram packets made from "a new type of packaging to give the products a more premium look and feel," Crum-Ewing said. The company's chips are otherwise packaged in various sizes.

The new-look snack packets has also hit the shelves in the UK and should be available in Cayman Islands by yearend, he said.

"By early 2015, we expect that we will launch in our US markets as well, which is primarily Miami, Atlanta and New York, and we are currently researching other Caribbean territories," he said.

JP Tropical Division's businesses are centred in the Caribbean and Central America, and include the production and marketing of natural foods and drinks, as well as the management of landholdings located in the parishes of Clarendon and St Mary.

Jamaica Producers Group, at its annual general meeting earlier this year, had laid out its plans to shareholders to regain ground against imported brands such as Costa Rican-made Soldanza, whose ripe and green plantain chips have gained traction in Jamaica.

"Our strength is in banana, theirs is in plantain," Crum-Ewing said of Soldanza in the Financial Gleaner interview. "We competed in plantain before but not at a significant level, so this brand marks our major foray into the plantain chips market."

The differentiator for JP, he said, lies in the variety of flavours the company has rolled out.

"Regardless of the competition, what we see is growth in the demand for plantain chips in the general snack marketplace, which is why we have gone heavily into plantain chips for this line," the JP Tropical Foods GM said.

The company is also evaluating a re-entry of its sweet potato chips product, saying it is still seeking the "right variety" of sweet potatoes to launch the product.