Linga Ya Farms, a small Jamaican business producing wood-fire-roasted and packaged breadfruit, has turned to the Export Max III programme to make inroads into the international market.
Export Max III is an export development initiative managed by the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), the Jamaica Manufacturers & Exporters Association (JMEA) and the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC). The programme works to find new markets overseas for Jamaican companies while increasing the island’s export sales.
Linga Ya Farms is a family-owned enterprise located in the community of Dillon, overlooking Innis Bay in East Portland. The operation, which is managed by mother-daughter duo Anne Saunders and Annakaye Saunders-Tucker, was started by Saunders-Tucker’s parents who had moved to the Portland property for their retirement. The land, surrounded by under-developed communities, came with “a bountiful amount of breadfruit trees”.
“My parents had such a surplus of breadfruits and they didn’t want them to go to waste. So, they started to roast and package the breadfruits on a kitchen counter,” Saunders-Tucker related. “Every time we had family visitors or friends or we travelled we would take packaged breadfruit for them”.
Like many business ideas, the opportunity for Linga Ya Farms was identified after numerous suggestions by relatives and family friends. Saunders-Tucker said, “Everybody would say wow this is such a wonderful product. I’ve had it in my freezer for almost a year and we take it out and it tastes like it just came off the fire, why don’t you do something commercially?”
The family, who were very keen on providing employment in the under-developed area, seized upon the idea and founded the company in 2018.
“After testing the product in the local market, we saw the potential for export and started to work with JAMPRO soon after that,” Saunders-Tucker disclosed. “We started doing the local distribution in August, and I think by November we had received our certificate from JAMPRO as an exporter. “
Soon after, Linga Ya Farms started to sell the product at 2 Hampers & A Mule at Norman Manley Airport, and then in February of the following year they added Reggae Vibes at Sangster International Airport to their list of export locations.
The product, which consists of traditional fire-roasted, peeled and sliced breadfruit in vacuum sealed packages, is currently sold through major supermarkets such as John R Wong, Lee’s Food Fair, General Foods, Loshusan and Super Value in Kingston.
Saunders-Tucker also revealed that the company did its first official export to Florida in November of 2019.
She said, “The Florida market has really taken off. We export to Florida every two weeks and we started off with 10 cases, each containing 24 packages. We are now exporting about a hundred cases a month.”
It was the family’s confidence in their product’s export potential that led them to JAMPRO and the Export Max III programme.
“We met with JAMPRO and they told us about the Export Max programme, and we thought that it was an excellent fit for our business that would help us to grow and to build on the experiences of all the other agencies that are involved,” Saunders-Tucker explained.
Since then, the company has been actively participating in the programme, getting the knowledge needed to build their export capacity and sales. “We have participated in many sessions,” Saunders-Tucker said. “The first thing we did when we were told that we had been selected to participate in Export Max III was a three-month programme held by JAMPRO and UWI Open Campus, which was a step-by-step export guide that was very intensive.”
She went on to say, “It provided information on labelling and packaging requirements for export and all of the different product requirements. It went through what agencies like the Bureau of Standards Jamaica and Scientific Research Council have available, and what the requirements were and how we could access them for assistance.”
The course also empowered Linga Ya Farms with the knowledge it needed about manufacturing practices on a large scale, and what the requirements were for everything from reaping to packaging and storage.
As part of the Export Max III initiative, Linga Ya Farms also participated in a trade visit to Canada in 2019. Saunders-Tucker explained, however, that further scheduled trade visits were interrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has led to Export Max III adapting to the new realities brought on by the pandemic by shifting its promotional strategy for its participants to virtual trade shows, virtual B2B meeting platforms, and a digital marketing strategy focused on digital marketing campaigns, digital content and collateral creation as well as ecommerce. Saunders-Tucker said the company was looking forward to participating in the virtual trade show.
The Export Max initiative has helped Linga Ya Farms adjust its structure to more efficiently realize its export objectives.
“The company started out as a sole proprietorship,” the Saunders-Tucker stated. “We changed the business under the guidance and recommendation of JBDC to a limited liability which came through in the middle of September.”
In elaborating on other ways in which the programme has helped, she added that e-meetings and seminars has shown the company how to access world data to identify market opportunities and international competition.
Saunders-Tucker is confident that despite the pandemic, Linga Ya Farms will be able to achieve its export objectives with the assistance of Export Max III.
“We have a website in addition to Facebook and Instagram pages and we have been getting feedback from people in Atlanta, New York and Toronto asking us where they can access our product. They are ready for us. So those are the markets we are initially targeting”, Saunders-Tucker said.
Despite the challenges of climate change which brought drought in the early part of the year, expansion is underway. A cold storage facility is already in place and this will help maintain supply throughout the year even when output is affected by environmental and seasonal factors.
“Because our product is frozen it has a nine-month shelf life so we can actually have that product available all year round,” Saunders-Tucker explained.
Additional equipment is being sourced in order to move to semi-automation in order to increase output, and the company is looking to hire more staff from the community.
“We will continue to increase our employment and economic activity in the community as we grow,” Saunders-Tucker stated enthusiastically. “Our demand has gone way beyond what our approximately 100 breadfruit trees can supply so we are now working closely with RADA and all the farmers in the surrounding area to meet our current and future demands.”
As part of its continuing engagement with the community Linga Ya Farms plans to initiate a breakfast feeding programme for children and staff while a home-work centre will be set up for youngsters.
“What I am most proud of in the whole business is that my mother was 74 and my father was 81 and they decided to take their retirement savings and invest in the business and in the community,” Saunders-Tucker said emotionally. “I am proud that after working hard all of their lives they could have sat back, but they saw a need and they invested their savings as well as their time in this enterprise.”
The co-manager of the family-owned enterprise said they will continue to work closely with Export Max III, an initiative that they see as key to the success of Linga Ya Farms and its ability to contribute in a positive way to the East-Portland community.
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