Tucked away in the verdant hills of St Ann, Jamaica, just 30 minutes outside of the tourist mecca of Ocho Rios, is a quaint village with some remarkable lessons to share about entrepreneurialism, job-creation, sustainability and profit-making.
- Do What You Know: The tradition of jerk seasoning (perhaps Jamaica’s greatest export) is steeped in the country’s history. It started in the eighteenth century as a way of preserving meat, when Maroons – runaway slaves – would hunt in the hills for wild pigs, too far away to return home quickly with their kill.The art of jerk cooking and the secrets of its spicy flavors was not uncharted territory: it was something the townspeople ofWalker’s Wood excelled at, as did generations before them.
- Find a Niche, Fill a Void: With the burgeoning of Jamaica’s robust tourism economy, the American and Western European desire for new flavors, and large numbers of Jamaican émigrés living off the island to find paying jobs, it realized that there was a market for Caribbean-style products. In 1986 the company became the first Jamaican exporter of jerk seasoning, reaching sales of J$31,000 in its first year. Annual sales of its 20+ product line has risen to J$350 million with 80 percent of its production exported.
- Fulfill Your Social Mission: Walkerswood Caribbean Foods is first and foremost a social enterprise. Raw materials are purchased fresh from local farmers across the island. Peppers are also bought from the Walkerswood Farmers Group, the village community farm, which the company helped to organize. Walkerswood’s own farm, Green Adventures, helps provide scallion, another essential ingredient. In total, the company employs 150 full-time employees today and keeps far more employed in its supply chain.
- Leverage Core Competencies When Diversifying: To go beyond serving a Caribbean ex-pat niche market and into the mainstream, Walkerswood opened two international offices — one in Miami and one in London—as well as its first restaurant, Bamboula, in the heart of Brixton, London. It continued to build its brand with the release of two cookbooks published by Simon & Schuster. It even got on the tourism bandwagon with the Jerk Country Tour, a very popular one-hour workshop that lets visitors in on the fascinating history of the region and offers a hands-on lesson to create unique jerk seasonings using spices from their gardens.
- Consolidate When Necessary: Walkerswood is in the process of transition, part of which is selling off portions of the business. Not enough info on this yet, but I’ll keep you posted. Having built itself into a substantial enterprise, this is another necessary growth and profit-making strategy that may pay off well for this clever community.
Not too shabby for a group of people who started off being world-class “jerks,” eh?