CARIBBEAN CHAMPAGNE

Jamaica 2018 | AGRIFOOD & INDUSTRY | FOCUS: BLUE MOUNTAIN COFFEE

Blue Mountain Coffee, a label only given to coffee from a certain region of Jamaica, saw hard times in 2017, but hopes are still high for Jamaica's coffee industry in 2018.

Decreased demand for Jamaica's finest beans, Blue Mountain Coffee, left producers without work and growers with a large surplus. This dip in demand is largely attributed to Japan's increased stores of coffee. Jamaica's largest export market had a significant supply of beans in storage meaning they did not need to buy more.

At the same time, demand for non-Blue Mountain Coffee—the Jamaican coffee equivalent to sparkling white wine from other regions of France that are not Champagne—outstripped supply, creating a shortage of lowland coffee varieties.
Add to this, coffee producers told TBY that the market is overwhelmingly dominated by wholesale of green coffee beans, and Jamaican coffee products on the market are currently quite limited. While Japan has been Jamaica's biggest international market, there is not much added value in this market because they mostly buy green coffee beans, according to John Minott, CEO of Jamaica Standard Product (JSP).
With all this in mind, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries (MICAF) implemented in October 2017 a USD80-million initiative to increase productivity in the coffee industry. The Productivity Incentive Program is set to boost output from 20 boxes to 80 boxes per acre, providing support for a dynamic coffee industry and supplying both exports and the local market. Mark McIntosh, Vice-Chairman of Wallenford and Mavis Bank Coffee companies, told TBY, “Although a farm should have 900 trees per acre, many Blue Mountain Coffee farms have far less. There is a great deal more that could be grown on existing farms. As the largest holder of land in the Blue Mountain Coffee area, we are in the best position to lead this effort.”
Part of this enlarged output will become the source for diversified, added-value coffee products and new markets. McIntosh, in addition to advocating more dense farming, explained that moving Jamaica's coffee industry forward will require getting closer to the final product and selling more roasted coffee.
JSP is also venturing into new products. Minott mentioned to TBY JSP's new business line in cooperation with the hospitality sector to create coffee-infused liqueurs. “We do a coffee liqueur under Baronhall Estate and a West Indies Blue Mountain liqueur for an overseas company, KRB Rums.” The liqueurs, said Minott, are becoming popular locally, and JSP is looking to grow exports, particularly eyeing markets in Canada, the US, and Europe. One of Jamaica's oldest coffee brands also has a single-serve coffee in their shops, Coffee and Spice, which are catered to international visitors.
In addition to widening its coffee offerings, Jamaica is also looking to broaden its export markets for Blue Mountain Coffee, with sights set on the growing coffee demand in China especially.
The second part of the initiative is to bolster supplies for the local market. In this regard, the Productivity Incentive Program is complemented by a new tax on imported coffee; the Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association (JCEA) is hoping the government will present the necessary regulations to parliament in January 2018. Augmented production of non-Blue Mountain Coffee beans will be directed toward serving growing local demand for the non-premium varieties.
Salada Foods uses the less expensive beans to create soluble coffee products through its Mountain Peak brand. “Salada Foods currently holds a little over 50% of the market share in the instant coffee category of the coffee market… We consider ourselves the coffee of choice of Jamaicans because most of us grew up drinking Mountain Peak.” Dianna Blake Bennett, General Manager, told TBY. Bennett identified the coffee industry's biggest obstacle in Jamaica: producing the locally demanded volumes of coffee affordably. Local, inexpensive beans are a crucial part of their manufacturing process.
As per US coffee chain Dunkin Donuts' slogan, “America runs on Dunkin,” so too Jamaica is signaling that its agriculture industry also runs on the mighty coffee bean.