Here’s why you need to attend #AbsolutelyCaribbean2020

If you haven’t heard already, Absolutely Caribbean, our first virtual event kicks off next week.  We have more than 50 producers exhibiting over the two days.  From organic beauty products to aged rum, hot pepper sauces and condiments, these are some of the best and most exciting producers from the Caribbean.

The event programme has shaped up nicely and is bursting with interesting sessions that you simply won’t want to miss.  Here are just some of the highlights –

Partners, Original Flava, will show us how versatile Caribbean products are in everyday cooking.  ITC-Alliances for Action will present a review on the main food trends and opportunities for the future.  There will be sessions on plant-based ingredients which have seen a surge in demand in recent years. Another will run through the history of rum, including a selection of some of the best ones available.  You’ll have the opportunity to learn all about trends, business innovation and social inclusion within the coffee market as well as learning all about chocolate as a mass product with the potential to leverage real change within our food system.  What’s more, you will be able to book slots with each and every one of our producers to find out more about their products and how they are made.

Over the last few years, we have seen a growing trend for Caribbean products across Europe which is really exciting and provides great opportunity for our producers.  In 2018 alone, over 26 Billion Euros worth of goods and services were exported globally from Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) and 17.6% of this was to Europe.  If you want to read more about the profit potential of Caribbean products across the UK, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, make sure you read our report (here).

If you haven’t signed up already, what are you waiting for?

See you there!

Caribbean producers: consumer demand for pure and simple products is only natural

Health-conscious consumers are driving the increasing demand for natural products and ingredients. Research shows that the global natural food and drinks market was valued at $79.1 million in 2016 and is estimated to reach $191.9 million by 2023 – a compound annual growth rate of 17.6%. The term ‘natural’ has a range of connotations, but all of them are overwhelmingly positive, and signify how invested consumers are in trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In a 2018 global study, Ipsos asked consumers to interpret the term ‘natural’ and the three most common associations were:

• Healthy.
• No artificial ingredients.
• 100% from nature.

The public gravitates towards natural products because they believe these offer health benefits which cannot be replicated by man-made substances.

Back to nature

The Caribbean is a tropical haven for a range of plant-based ingredients, so it’s no wonder the region is seeing a surge in demand for its natural produce.

A picture of part of the Caribbean products on show at Food Matters Live

This year, Food Matters Live will welcome Caribbean suppliers of natural goods including herbal teas by Caribbean Cure and Shavuot International; the world’s first turmeric paste from Belizean company Naledo and organic chocolate and cocoa based products by Cold Bush Organics from Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountains range, courtesy of the Caribbean Export Development Agency.

These companies and more are actively taking advantage of the Caribbean’s indigenous bounty.

Caribbean Cure, based in Trinidad and Tobago, prides itself on “harnessing the power of nature” in its organic loose leaf teas and tea bags.

Utilising Caribbean herbs, roots, plants and barks which are traditionally known for their unique healing and health properties, Caribbean Cure’s infusions are not only natural but delicious. They contain no preservatives, additives, or artificial flavourings and a special dehydration process ensures customers taste “the maximum amount of wellness in every drop”.

The award-winning company was founded by Stacy Seeterram and Sophia Stone.

“When we began handcrafting our blends, we had one simple mission – to share our passion and love for the age-old traditions and healing qualities of Caribbean herbs,” Sophia recalls. “We visited farmers, herbalists and tea lovers from across the region to find out what makes the perfect cup of natural tea. We were determined to create much more than tea with health benefits.”

Stacy adds: “The secret is in the process. The tea leaves are slow dried to maximise nutrient content. Each blend offers a delicate balance formulated to create a memorable and unique experience in every cup.”

Authentic and good for you

Shavuot International is a family-owned Caribbean company which has also tapped into the ever-increasing consumer appetite for all things natural.

Shavuot’s products include exotic tea blends, natural skin and hair treatments, breadfruit flour and powdered spices.

The Jamaican company’s teas rely on natural ingredients of the highest quality, handpicked and manufactured to preserve the rich nutrients in each blend.

Its loose tea is made from local leaves and seeds of the moringa plant, turmeric, cinnamon, cerasee, ginger and peppermint.

Shavuot, which means harvesting goodness, prides itself on using ethically and organically sourced ingredients produced through sustainable community development partnerships and with the support of local farmers.

The company currently exports its products to over 13 countries including the US, UK, Australia, Canada and around the Caribbean.

For more information visit Caribbean Cure and Shavuot International.

This article was originally published on

Covid-19 Reinforces the Need for Business Owners to Diversify

If there is one thing Jacqueline Cort-Thomas has learnt from her COVID-19 experience, it is that business people need to diversify.  The pandemic was certainly a wake-up call for the owner of the Villas at Sunset Lane, a 10-room boutique hotel located on the idyllic island of Antigua. 

Ms. Cort-Thomas, who was a beneficiary of the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s WE-Xport programme, an initiative which provides technical support to regional female-owned businesses, had leveraged the support of the programme to re-build the accommodation’s brand to attract group travelers and offer an alluring calendar of events. 

Jacqueline Cort-Thomas owner of Villas at Sunset Lane

Through the WE-Xport programme, Ms. Cort-Thomas accessed business coaching and technical assistance. After delving into her business operations she sought to re-structure finance and subsequently secured a lower commercial interest rate on her company’s outstanding loan.  After hounding the bank for a good four years, the bank finally acquiesced on January 2020 to a 7.5 % rate from 9 5 %. This was a huge game changer for the business’ bottom line, she said.

 Ms. Cort-Thomas also successfully rebranded the villa’s identity, launched an engaging website and transformed the property into a hot event location, with bookings for Jazz, Just Desserts Pop-Up, culinary re-treats, a film festival and tea parties, amongst others. 

As the benefits of the WE-Xport programme were coming to fruition, they quickly came to an abrupt halt when the novel coronavirus escalated globally. The travel and tourism industries were hit hard as countries announced plans to close their borders and governments issued calls for their citizens to return home. 

 We began to feel the effects of COVID-19 around March 23 when there was a possibility of Antigua & Barbuda closing their borders.  Guests who were already in the hotel hurriedly changed their flights to get home and all the bookings down to August were cancelled,” she recalled. 

The islands borders were officially closed on March 28 and a lockdown was quickly implemented. The hotelier was forced to lay off staff.  

Villas at Sunset Lane in antigua

It totally brought a halt to accommodation, the core business of Villas at Sunset Lane. It affected our entire calendar of events as all our special events which were planned and developed, some with sponsors in place, had to be cancelled.  Everything came crashing down, leaving the company with zero cashflow. It became evident that all my eggs were in one basket which had sprung a gaping hole. It taught me that I needed to diversify my product offerings,” she revealed

With downtime on her hands, Jacqueline drew on her culinary skills and training to offer a Home Cooking and Delivery Service. Although it gained traction initially, it wasn’t sustainable as momentum slowed down.

There was a demand from some quarters for precooked meals. Villas at Sunset Lane attempted to benefit from the demand but as the curfew started to relax, we found our new customers began to return to their familiar watering holes.  It was not worth the effort to continue the food service,” she explained.

Citronella candles and inspect repellant manufactured in Antigua.

Fortunately for Jacqueline, she and four other persons had previously invested in a business called TCG (Antigua) Ltd, which manufactures need-based” products such as citronella candles and insect repellent.

 She disclosed: Even though the hotels were all closed creating zero demand for Villas at Sunset Lane, households still needed these products so sales continued but on a reduced level.  The factory is now looking at producing hand sanitizers another need-based product for sale locally with the aim to expand regionally.”

 Ms. Cort-Thomas explained that TCG (Antigua) Ltd had the potential to scale up but it was in need of technical assistance. The predominantly female-owned company is hoping to benefit from the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s WE-Xport Programme, which is also designed to help regional business women start or increase exports of their products and services.

 So far, TCG (Antigua) Ltd. had begun the process of seeking authorization to enter several markets including Grenada, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Trinidad and Tobago.  There are plans to re-introduce the product line in St. Kitts and Nevis.

I view this move as part of me pivoting into a more sustainable business opportunity since in my opinion accommodation will struggle for the next two to three years to get back on a profitable footing,” she expressed.

 Ms. Cort-Thomas intends to create a symbiotic relationship between her two businesses, possibly bringing the industries of tourism and manufacturing a bit closer.

Villas at Sunset Lane is in the process of developing an e-commerce store which will sell key products made in the Caribbean. TCG (Antigua) Ltd is planning on improving its current line of fragrance candles with a focus on satisfying the Spa & Wellness market.  The fragrance candles will be part of gift packages sold via the online store,” she said.

Now that the country has reopened its borders to tourists, Jacqueline shared that the Villas at Sunset Lane received permission from the Antigua Tourism Board to operate again.   The board is responsible for examining hotels on the island to ensure they are compliance with COVID-19 protocols.  And although, overseas visitors haven’t returned to the accommodation as yet, Jacqueline indicated there was increased interest in staycations from locals.          

Nonetheless, despite the pandemic being emotionally and financially burdensome for Ms. Cort-Thomas, the businesswoman strongly believes that for her, COVID-19 was an important teaching moment.

Building Financial Resilience in SMEs – Part 2

Review inventory systems

This pandemic has disrupted global supply chains adversely affecting companies’ inventory levels. This brings inventory management to the fore as firms must balance having adequate stock levels to meet customer demands against holding too much stock which can have an adverse effect on cash flow. The cost of carrying inventory is usually higher than the cost of carrying accounts receivables. Therefore, focusing strategically on reducing inventory may improve a company’s bottom line. Moreover, studies have shown that improving inventory management processes can help businesses reduce spending by as much as 25%.

To strategically manage inventory in a way that creates fiscal space for the business, measurements such as monthly analyses of average inventory levels held in days, periodic inventory counts, and sales forecasts are useful. An optimum inventory level should be the goal as too much or too little can be costly to your business. There are useful formulae like SQRT (2SO/CP) which helps businesses to determine economic ordering quantities. While not a silver bullet, it helps to answer two critical questions regarding inventory levels: how much and how often should inventory be ordered? There are numerous types of inventory management systems available to SMEs. Because optimizing inventory levels is a key component of managing cash flow levels, it is important for building financial resilience in SMEs.

Leverage bank & government initiatives

Securing livelihoods and stimulating economic recovery are priorities for governments across the region and several initiatives to support businesses have already been announced. Similarly, banks are offering their business clients opportunities to improve liquidity through restructuring debt repayments and revising interest rates. Here are some of a few examples of what is happening across the region.

Debt Repayments: In the Dominican Republic, credit restructuring is in place to ensure that debtors’ credit ratings are not reduced because of payment arrears caused by the current situation. In Belize, the Central Bank has extended the time (from 3-6 months) to classify non-performing loans for certain companies such as restaurants, transportation, and distribution. Both banks and credit unions have been encouraged to provide grace periods for servicing interest and/or principal components of commercial loans.

Interest Rates: In Trinidad and Tobago the Central Bank has requested money lenders to arrange deferred payments and to reduce interest rates for members. Interest rates on credit cards are expected to be reduced by 10-17% of existing rates. The Bank of Guyana has also urged commercial banks to reduce interest rates on loans and allow deferral of repayments for businesses while in Grenada, businesses in the agro-processing, agriculture and fisheries sector are being offered an interest rate of 3% from the Small Business Development Fund (SBDF).

Liquidity Access: In Barbados a BDS $40 Million VAT Loan Fund has been created to support VAT registered companies with an annual turnover of BDS $200,000 in sales whose cash flows have been severely disrupted by the pandemic. In Jamaica the Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) is a program set up to provide temporary cash transfers to registered businesses operating in the tourism industry which are licensed with the Jamaican Tourist Board. In addition, the Trinidad & Tobago government will provide TT $100 million to the credit union movement for liquidity support to small businesses that qualify for credit union loans. Meanwhile in Grenada, the SBDF has increased its maximum threshold to EC $40,000 while the threshold for unsecured loans is EC$10,000. Lastly in the Dominican Republic the government through the Employee Solidarity Assistance Fund is covering part of the salary expenses in companies experiencing economic difficulties.

Direct Support Grants

Caribbean Export Development Agency will be offering direct support grants to SMEs in CARIFORUM to support a several activities including business continuity via a new programme developed specifically to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on business. This Direct Support Grant Programme is pegged to launch in July. Subscribe to our mailing list to be informed when the programme launches.

This list is by no means exhaustive and exporters are encouraged to explore the different types of support available in their respective countries. Building financial resilience must take place at the firm level through protecting cashflows, maintaining and using financial intelligence and strengthening inventory management. Fortunately, governments in the region have come to the aide of the private sector by creating the regulatory environment necessary to further strengthen private sector financial resilience.

Has your company reviewed and strengthened its financial management systems? Learn more about managing your cash flow in Building Financial Resilience in SMEs – Part 1.

Building a brand, from a bar of soap, to a bath and body line – the bahamaSpa™ story

Indira Weech owner of bahamaSpaâ„¢.

When Indira Weech returned home to the Bahamas after living in Europe, she started a movement.  Determined to offer tourists an authentic Bahamian experience, Indira decided to forego traditional souvenirs, opting for soap, which she dubbed the useful souvenir. 

Her handcrafted, skin-loving bars, formulated with indigenous botanicals and Caribbean scents, provide the perfect way for visitors to the Bahamas to take home a little piece of paradise.  And her focus on using natural ingredients and sustainable packaging has been at the forefront of her eco-coconscious living in the Bahamas, inspiring others to be more mindful of how much they throw away.

From just soaps in 2004, bahamaSpa™ has expanded to a full body and hair care range, including body scrubs, butters, creams, lotions, massage oils and shampoo bars. And at the root of the company’s success, is Indira’s passion.  As she tells it, she’s obsessed with formulating products that are good for both the user and the environment.

If you are going to be successful as an entrepreneur, it can’t just be about money, she said. The days and nights will be long, so you’ll need to find something you’re passionate about, and motivated to keep doing in spite of the failures you will encounter.

In addition to loving what you do, Indira implores aspiring entrepreneurs to train continuously.  Knowledge is key to remaining relevant, improving your product or service and perfecting your brand, she said.

Looking back on her own failures, Weech shared that there have been many, including the closing of her business and starting again from scratch. But she believes when entrepreneurs share their story, they should willingly share both the highs and the lows, so that those contemplating the journey have a true sense of what it can be like.

Looking ahead, future plans for bahamaSpa

It’s been 11 years since Indira started building the bahamaSpa brand, and many of them have been spent learning about product formulation and about the beneficial properties of plants and herbs.  The focus on, and investment in continuous education has been worth it.  Her palm, phthalate and paraben free products are receiving rave reviews, and have found their way into luxury spas across the Bahamas.

The demand for this healthier, environmentally friendly skin care option has been so high, that keeping up supply has been challenging.  And, because many of the tourists who try Weech’s souvenirs want more than a one-off experience, her focus is now on getting export ready.

bahamaSpa is one of 20 women-owned Caribbean businesses making up the first cohort of participants in the Women Empowered through Export (WE-Xport) programme, which is designed to support Caribbean women in business to start exporting, or increase the exports of their products and services. 

Inspired by the sights, sounds and smells of Paris while exploring the city as a child, Weech knew then she wanted to be a creator.  She wanted to produce something beautiful and artistic that brought pleasure to its users, and she wanted it to be on display in one of the luxurious Parisian storefronts she peered into and fell in love with.  bahamaSpa, with support from the WE-Xport programme, is at the beginning of the realization of that dream, and Indira is confident, that she will one day walk the streets of Paris, and see her products looking back at her from the other side of the glass.

Visit the We-Xport booth at Bmex in June 2019 to see the bahamaSpa range of products.

Kreyòl Essence: The Luxury Beauty Product Changing the Image of Haiti

Haiti is still recovering from a devastating earthquake which occurred in January 2010 and killed almost 150,000 people. The natural disaster left hundreds of thousands reliant on foreign aid and charity and set back economic development for decades. Entrepreneur and social activist Yve-Car Momperousse was on the verge of launching her beauty business when the quake hit, she immediately put her dreams on hold and set about raising relief funds. Three years later she finally got Kreyòl Essence up and running and now she’s using her company to empower Haitian people and provide a means by which they can help themselves.

Yve-Car Momperousse began researching plans for a Haiti-based beauty business in 2009 but her progress was sadly cut short just a few months later when that Caribbean country was left reeling by one of the world’s worst ever natural disasters.

Ms Momperousse stopped everything to provide assistance including raising $500,000 (US) dollars in cash and supplies to put towards immediate humanitarian efforts, and it would be over a year and a half after the quake before she returned to her business idea.

“My mother in her wisdom said, ‘I know you’ve been concentrating on relief but that’s not sustainable. When the cameras are gone, and there’s no longer a focus on Haiti because of the tragedy, people will still need to work’. So because of that I started to look again at the business.”

Kreyòl Essence was officially launched in 2013 and its winning formula of sustainable social impact alongside 100 per cent natural products has seen it develop over the past four years into a trusted beauty supplier. Described as ‘natural with a purpose’, the company has tapped into the growing desire among consumers for businesses to create ethical offerings while also espousing a positive message and making a real difference.

Ms Momperousse explains: “The company cemented my love for beauty products as well as social impact. When we plant castor seeds it helps with the environment – soil erosion, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and we provide work primarily for women, so the company is truly women led and run. And by selling a luxury beauty product we hope to change the image and discourse coming out of Haiti.”

Now Kreyòl Essence is fast approaching its goal of selling over 40,000 Haitian Black Castor Oil bottles in one year after partnering with powerhouse group Whole Foods Market which has seen its products sold in hundreds of stores across the US and Canada, and soon it will also be available in the UK.

Ms Momperousse secured the deal with Whole Foods after “knocking on doors” and admits that she never thought her business would be working with such a substantial industry player so soon after launching.

She says: “I went into stores and did demos on our product line to make sure buyers had an experience with the product and understood our story. Initially we started selling in about six stores and that grew to 52 in three months and six months after that we’re doing 250 stores, and soon we’ll be in 450.”

Ms Momperousse estimates that the Whole Foods deal will help Kreyòl Essence’s sales grow by 50 – 60 per cent and lead to significant scaling up of production which will enable the company to sustain jobs for 50 female production staff and 300 Haitian farmers. “I like to say that the social impact drives my focus on sales because none of the social impact can happen if we are not a financially healthy company”, she states. “So I have to focus on profit margins and I would like sales to reach, in the next five to eight years, the $10 million (US) dollar mark to cement the seriousness of the company”.

So what has been the secret to Ms Momperousse’s success so far?

“You need the right type of environment in order to thrive. So you need people who are like-minded, driven and understand how to support you as a business owner. You also need family to support you as an individual because being an entrepreneur is mentally, as well as physically, taxing. Persistence is key because you cannot take no for an answer, and you need to believe that there is always an answer to whatever you are trying to figure out, so do not stop.”

Ms Momperousse was named the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s ‘Female Exporter of the Year’ in December 2016 and she’s hoping to use the award to get more attention for her business. She adds: “I applied because I wanted to show that women are involved in the agriculture space as well as exports. I also thought it was important to represent Haiti because the press associated with my country often does not showcase the positivity and the beauty that we have to offer.”

Ms Momperousse has also benefited from a Caribbean Export workshop in Jamaica which explained the impact and advantages of ‘angel investors’ and her business partner attended the annual Havana International Fair (FIHAV) in Cuba.

“The event in Jamaica was wonderful because it helped me to review what it takes to become an investable company with a spin on the Caribbean where angel investor networks are not as common. It was good to have those discussions and to hear what was coming up in terms of engaging with angel investors.”

Ms Momperousse is currently looking for increased capital investment to fund Kreyòl Essence’s ambitious plans for expansion.

“My end goal is to create jobs for 1,000 Haitian farmers and women so that we can truly see that they are getting amazing pay and benefits and a steady income.”