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It’s a familiar sight at most Jamaican families’ Sunday dinners: rice and peas, ox tails, yam, curry goat, callaloo, ackee and salt fish–and some sorrel to wash it all down. While a huge number of Jamaicans have migrated to the States, being away from home certainly hasn’t stopped them from enjoying the taste of home.
But the process of getting those ethnic foods to America involves more than just packing a barrel–it’s serious business. “The importing process is a weekly thing. Food is flown in at times or shipped–it depends on the quantity,” says Mike Chin, co-owner of Sweet-N-Spicey Foods Inc., a Baltimore-based wholesale distributorship business. “We put the orders together and then call the suppliers by Monday. By Tuesday of every week, the goods are flown in from either Kingston or Montego Bay to the Baltimore-Washington Airport.”
Sweet-N-Spicey imports vegetables and 200 different dry goods from the Grace Kennedy and Butter Kiss lines, including yams, callaloo, peppers, thyme and certain meats. “Sometimes one supplier is not able to get certain things, so it’s good to have more than one,” says Chin, who’s been operating Sweet-N-Spicey with his stepfather, Keith Cummings, for over 10 years.
Once in the States, the food is trucked to over 200 customers, from grocery stores to restaurants and carry-outs in the Washington, D.C./Maryland metropolitan area. Chin estimates that Sweet-N-Spicey spends approximately $1,000 a week importing food not only to West Indians but also to Hispanics and African Americans.
Intangible products can also be imported and exported. Vosa Rivers, an international events promoter and producer responsible for the acclaimed South African play Sarafina, has developed a strategic alliance to promote cultural events in Jamaica and export Jamaican talent to the U.S.
The deal has River’s Voz Entertainment Group teaming up with Byron Lewis, CEO of advertising powerhouse UniWorld Group, and Jamaican businessmen Ronnie Nasralla and Stephen Hill of Nasralla Promotions Ltd. Working with a budget of $5-$10 million, the first project on their lineup was the Negril Music Festival, slated for March 14-16, which MTV agreed to broadcast to the States. Intermission, a dramatic play that had a box office run in Jamaica, makes its U.S. debut in May, and the successful Jamaican television shows Oliver and Lime Tree Lane are also scheduled to air in New York City and Miami this spring. The alliance, says Rivers, will have “a spin-off effect that will help a number of businesses–from black-owned hotels to local transportation providers. The entire country benefits.”
According to industry insiders, there’s a void to be filled with such products as basic foods, clothing, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, cosmetics, skin and health care products. There’s also a demand for luxury items, electronics and automobiles. The key areas for investments in Jamaica are: minerals and chemicals, services and technology, entertain-ment and tourism, and agriculture and manufacturing.
Claudette Chin, vice president of marketing for JAMPRO (Jamaica Promotions Corp.), the government’s agency for economic development, says that opportunities abound for joint ventures. “Many factories in Jamaica are producing excellent products and have won prestigious