Non-traditional crops exported from Jamaica have begun to show signs of improvement with the country's national fruit — ackee — leading the charge.Ackee exports from Jamaica rose to their highest level in 2016 to total roughly US$20 million, up from the US$4.4 million the country totalled back in 2000 when it broke into the US market.
The trends are expected to continue this year as global consumers increase their search for ackee, rum, coffee and jerk seasoning.
According to the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro), ackee export is expected to grow to US$21.1 million by the end of this year and US$29.25 million by 2020. Statistics from the Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA) also show that the demand for the local crops have increased in numbers over the last five years.
The growth trend shows that while consumers are using traditional trade methods to purchase local products, there has been an increase in consumers searching for local products online.
“In February 2012 for every person searching for Jamaican jerk, four persons searched for rum, eight for coffee and 40 people searched for ackee, according to Google Trends. Fast-forward to this February and ackee searches continue to dominate at 59 searches for every eight for coffee and rum; and three for jerk,” JEA stated on its website.
With approximately 1.8 million people of Jamaican decent living in the US, 800,000 in the United Kingdom and 400,000 living in Canada, GraceKennedy, Triple C Manufacturing, and Goshen Manufacturing are three local companies that have already sought to benefit from the increase in international demand for the national fruit.
In fact, Jampro wants to do more by placing the product in arm's length of consumers.
“You've not seen anything yet. Jampro is focused on moving the product from the shelves and get[ting] them into food service. Research shows that 65 per cent of ethnic food is food service — that is, at a restaurant, hotel — so we are making some deliberate steps to ensure that just as how you can go into places and order a Chinese meal, that you'll be able to get Jamaican products, jerk and other things, into food service,” vice-president of the Export and Market Development Division at Jampro, Robert Scott, told the Jamaica Observer.
Ultimately, the trade and investment agency wants to get more people taking the restaurant-prepared meal home.
“The reality is that you are likely to try sushi 15 to 20 times before you try and make it at home, and the average person who gets ackee is when they come to Jamaica on a vacation or when they are with somebody from the diaspora. We want to get Jamaican food in the mainstream and the way to do that is through food service,” he said.
According to Scott, Jampro has already put in place additional resources to identify partners in the US market. He added that the vision is to have Subway selling jerk sandwiches.
“It's about having those connections and ensuring that there is continuity among the producers and buyers in that market,” he said.
Scott noted, however, that there have been challenges in ackee production, as little new planting has taken place. Nonetheless, he said that a lot more local companies are working together, which has resulted in some improvement in processors reaching out to international markets.