Spur Tree Spices in the JEA’s Celebration of 49 Years

Please see below, a special article/feature that appeared in the Jamaica Exporters’ Association’s 2014 magazine celebrating its 49th year. You may view the magazine via ISSUU here.

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On a hot day in February, the plant was sizzling with energy. Every member of the team was focused on getting stacks of flavourful seasoning products on to a container destined for New York.

This is not an unusual happening at Spur Tree Spices Jamaica Limited’s factory located in the Garmex Free Zone on Marcus Garvey Drive. The export orders keep pouring in. “Last year we more than doubled our exports”, Albert Bailey, the upbeat Chief Executive Officer informed our visiting team. “We keep looking for opportunities and when we find them we capitalize
on them.”

Nodding in assent was Executive Director, Dennis Hawkins. Other members of the leadership, Mohan Jagnarine another Executive Director and Anand James, Director were not present.

In 2006, the company started operations in Mandeville with a small commercial blender, making bulk jerk seasoning which it supplied to its solitary food service customer in New York by Air Jamaica.
The company’s next big opportunity came when Grace Kennedy Limited agreed to distribute the bulk
seasoning to local hotels, restaurants and canteens through its food service division.

Things have certainly changed over the nine years. Spur Tree Spices Jamaica Limited, a wholly owned Jamaican company, now specializes in production, distribution and sales of a wide range of quality wet seasonings and sauces, meeting the needs of both the retail and food service markets for authentic Jamaican flavours.

In 2014, Spur Tree achieved overall sales growth of 117% over the previous year, driven primarily by a 171% growth in exports. The Company was also not sleeping on the job in the local retail market, which grew by 44% and efforts are underway to build greater brand equity in the local trade. The year brought a capital injection of over J$16 million and saw the launch of 5 new product lines. Staff increased by 50%. There was also investment in Information Technology and other infrastructure development to facilitate continued growth and improved efficiency.

“We are in major chains in the North Eastern belt of the US, including Restaurant Depot/Jetro (Cash and Carry), Shop Rite which is the largest independent supermarket chain, and Food Bazaar,” Mr. Bailey said. C. Kenneth Imports is the company’s main North Eastern US distributor. NAC Foods Inc is a sub-distributor. The Spur Tree label can also be seen in other US locations as well as Canada, the UK and Caribbean markets, and of course, here at home in Jamaica. Grace Kennedy and Frozen Delights are the local distributors.

The company has achieved much in a very short time, steadily expanding its operations, product range and markets and breaking new ground in exports. Just three years after start-up, Spur Tree won the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA) Award for Best MSME Exporter and the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) Champion Small Exporter JAMPRO Cup. Several other major awards for excellence have followed over the years.

Reflecting on the company’s achievements Mr. Hawkins spoke of the tremendous capacity of SME’s
for growth. “It’s easier for SME’s to double their labour force than large companies. SME’s account for more than 55% of total employment, and if even a quarter of SME’s can double their numbers there will be a huge increase in job creation. Every big company started out as an SME… To grow you have to think outside the box and work very hard.” He said that export manufacturers should not expect to do what they did twenty years ago. “We are not dealing with the same market. The Diaspora is changing. Packaging will have to change – labels will have to change- but the market is out there waiting across all demographics…”

Spur Tree has been discovering and successfully catering to its market with four main categories of Jamaican products: the acclaimed, convenient onestep seasonings (“just add meat”); premium quality sauces featuring the distinctive Scotch Bonnet pepper; traditional favourites – canned ackees and callaloo and a festival mix – and the “Ready to Eat” and “Ready to Cook” lines.

These lines of “Ready to Eat” and “Ready to Cook” meat and poultry prepared with Spur Tree seasonings, grew out of the company’s marination programme introduced in 2010 in a few Shop Rite
supermarkets, in recognition of the desire of retailers to add value to their product range. The comprehensive retail programme included customized in-store recipe manuals, training for staff and point of sale material. Hot deli products such as rotisserie jerk and curry chicken and the chilled, poultry and seafood seasoned with Spur Tree bulk seasoning and co-branded with the Company’s label, are now in many major US supermarkets.

Working on the basis that Jamaica is a very strong brand and that exporters need to support the image of the brand with quality products, the company pays close attention to all aspects of the process “from the farm to the customer”. It begins with quality locally grown produce and the company is proud of its strong linkages with local farmers across the island as they collaborate to raise the consistency and quality of their fresh inputs. Currently there is also an arrangement with the Garvey Maceo School for the supply of fresh Scotch Bonnet pepper in the effort to encourage various local interests to invest in providing raw material inputs to the growing sector of the economy that Spur Tree represents.

New York operations were established last year to facilitate weekly promotional and merchandising
activities aimed at increasing sales and raising Spur Tree brand awareness and visibility.“You have to go into the market and do the work on the ground to get the product off the shelves,” said Mr. Bailey. “We do four to five promotions every week, including demos and tasting. Distribution … is just the beginning. The process is not finished until the customer connects emotionally with the product”

The principals of the company have a wealth of food service experience and are passionate about their products. As Mr. Bailey explained, “We understand food. We understand customers. This is what led us to develop recipes using our own products. We will go and show our customers how to marinate, package and sell marinated meats.”

But with the many brands of spices and seasonings on the market, locally and overseas, what about competition? “You get lazy when there is little competition,” was the swift response. “Good competition keeps you strategizing and innovative. You also learn from others…”

Mr. Hawkins added, “Competition is only negative when the market is limited. You have to find a way to make yourself different. You have to do a lot of market research. Our aim is always to offer a better product than the brand leader at a lower price. We are looking long term, not just selling products but building a brand. …Everybody is looking at the same shelf space. We are constantly looking at ways to expand the market.”

Positivity, passion, product excellence, and people on board who catch the vision are some of Spur Tree’s success ingredients. Add expertise, thorough knowledge of the market place, boldness, creativity and sheer hard work.

There was good, positive energy coming from the team working at the Spur Tree Spices Jamaica Limited factory. The enticing aroma of Scotch Bonnet pepper pervaded the space, as the New York bound products being loaded promised more export earnings and provided more reasons to be hopeful about the nation’s economic prospects.

Spur Tree Spices Team

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