Rainforest Seafoods headquarters on Slipe Road in Kingston, Jamaica

Rainforest ramps up exports, targets diaspora markets

Rainforest Seafoods headquarters on Slipe Road in Kingston, Jamaica

Rainforest Seafoods Limited is setting its sights on ramping up exports in the Caribbean and other markets.

The Brian Jardim-owned company now processes 400 varieties of seafood from operating centres in Montego Bay and Kingston, and currently exports to 30 countries globally.

Expansion and investments

In the latter part of 2020, the company restarted expansion investments to prepare for the future, according to 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 totalled US$8 million.

Roger Lyn, director of marketing and corporate affairs, Rainforest Seafoods (File photo)

The company also opened a new bammy factory at its Slipe Road, Kingston location. It has also continued the build out of retail stores in the islands of St Lucia and Barbados. Lyn indicated that the company is going big on bammy, with the aim of exporting the cassava product to diaspora markets, principally Toronto, Canada, and New York, United States.

Lyn shared 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, but others like Sandals resort, 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 onstream, as licenses were issued by the National Fisheries Authority (NFA).

In 2020, Rainforest Seafoods made an investment in a processing plant in Calliaqua, St Vincent and the Grenadines. (File photo)

The company meanwhile, also continues to look at areas in which savings are possible. Lyn noted, “We have also commissioned our LNG generators in March 2021 at Slipe Road 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.

Recovery mode

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”.

“We were able to pivot the business and claw back some of the lost hotel sales. We are not yet back to 100 per cent capacity”

— Roger Lyn, director of marketing and corporate affairs, Rainforest Seafoods

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.

For the company, supply chain disruption was and still remains a major problem. Lyn told Business Observer, “the cost of freight primarily has been severely impacted and in some cases freight costs to both export finished goods and/or import raw material have increased 500 per cent or more.”

Further to this, the availability of container boxes has been an issue. He said, “Containers backed up in Asia for long periods caused scarcity of equipment and had a multiplier effect, delaying the movement of goods in other ports around the world. Also suppliers had shutdowns and outbreaks among staff impacting supplies.

“This was addressed by careful management of inventory and timely ordering to ensure delays would not seriously impact supply.”

Even while it hopes to secure revenue recovery from exports and the reopening hotel sector, Rainforest continues to face challenges. Local restrictions impacted company-owned restaurants and restaurant customers. Our Fish Pot restaurants began home deliveries to help reduce the impact.

Lyn said some of the positives coming out of the pandemic experience were the opportunities provided for the company to pivot. “We were able to pivot the business and claw back some of the lost hotel sales. We are not yet back to 100 per cent capacity,” he said.