Rainforest ramps up exports, targets diaspora markets

Rainforest Seafoods Limited, a company started by Brian Jardim and which now processes 400 varieties of seafood from operating centres in Montego Bay and Kingston, is setting its sights on ramping up exports in the Caribbean and other markets.

And, despite ith the pandemic still impacting the economy of the islands in which it operates, the company is keeping careful control of inventory and trying to manage out-of-control shipping costs.

Rainforest, which currently exports to 30 countries globally, restarted expansion investments in the latter part of 2020 to prepare for the future says Roger Lyn, director of marketing and corporate affairs. These investment projects comprised processing centres in St Vincent and the Grenadines and a new distribution centre in St Lucia. Total investment in the eastern Caribbean islands was US$8 million. The company also opened a new bammy factory at its Slipe Road location in Kingston. It has also continued to build out retail stores on the islands of St Lucia and Barbados. Lyn indicates that the company is going big on bammies with the aim of exporting the cassava product to Diaspora markets, principally Toronto in Canada and New York in the United States.

Lyn indicated that the company is in recovery mode after the 100 per cent loss of their resort markets with the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since 2021 revenues have been recovering, as many chains are back in operation — some at low capacity — while others like Sandals resorts at up to 70 per cent capacity. Other areas of promise are lobsters which had a good year for the season. Conch fishing, which was suspended up until this year, is now back on stream as licences were issued by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA).

The company, meanwhile, also continues to look at areas in which savings are possible. Lyn noted, “We have also commissioned our liquefied natural gas (LNG) generators in March 2021 at Slipe to reduce energy cost to make it more competitive in the future.” The company is also investing significant money in shrimp farming in Belize to improve supply for the region and global export. “Overall, there is a big push in export for the business,” Lyn told the Jamaica Observer.

Meanwhile, Rainforest is also expanding locally sourced meat and protein offerings with the construction of a meat butchery at Slipe Road in St Andrew. The company is also considering further expansion into dry products, local agro processing through bammy, and local meats. For the export push and facilities build out in St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia, financing had already been secured prior to the pandemic and is a mixture of debt and own cash.

For Rainforest, the pandemic hit in the middle of Lent 2020, which is one of the primary earning periods for the company’s seafood category. Sales in hotels fell precipitously to zero and other food service customers fell to almost zero due to lockdowns. The hotel business comprises what Lyn says is “a very significant part of our revenue via Jamaica, St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua”. Lyn recalled, “We were forced to shut down all our major expansion projects and rationalise our cost structure. We used job rotations to preserve as many jobs as possible. We shifted our sales focus to exports, supermarkets and the wholesale trade. We also offered well-priced bundle deals to the public through our major depots in order to reduce inventory that had been destined for the hotels. He commented that one of the main challenges was keeping the workforce safe and preventing an outbreak in the workplace. That was addressed by implementing strict protocols for hygiene and social distancing. Working from home was also implemented where office space could not accommodate appropriate physical distancing.