ST GEORGE’S, Grenada, Thursday October 5, 2017 – Grenadian-based fresh fruit juice business, Summer Ltd is targeting expansion into other Caribbean and international markets. This after successfully applying for a Co-Investment Grant (CI grant) from the LINK-Caribbean programme – a joint initiative between the World Bank and the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export).
Business owner, Stephanie Ryan revealed some of the ambitious development plans taking shape after the start-up company received the CI grant of US$75,000, to supplement the amount an angel investor initially provided to get the ‘pure and simple’ enterprise off the ground.
Angels aided business start up
Ryan and her partner, Jim Jardine also used angel funding to get their business started in 2014 after discussing their business idea with several contacts in Canada and the UK. They had a vision to provide healthy and natural beverages using tropical fruits while also boosting local employment and making a difference through partnering with island producers. After visiting several Caribbean countries in a bid to find the best place to bring their idea to life, they settled on Grenada.
“When we got to Grenada we hit all the factors that we were looking for,” Ryan reflects. “It’s a beautiful, safe island and the people are known for their warmth.
“When we went to buy juice from the local grocery store we were surprised to find out that there was no commercial juicing facility on the island, despite the abundance of local fruit, so we contacted the government and started a conversation.”
She adds: “We got lots of help with understanding the opportunities around the lay of the land and the business climate and had some concessions offered with bringing in equipment, but there was no money or financing available.”
The entrepreneurs were able to build a state-of-the-art drink production facility from scratch after collaborating with local food technologists and finding their willing financial backer through personal connections.
With the angel funding in place, the pair was able to rent and convert a 6,000 square foot warehouse from the Grenada Investment Development Corporation. They also brought in all of the equipment they needed to make and bottle natural fruit juices in a clean and safe environment and went to market in the first quarter of 2015.
Link Caribbean – a logical fit
A year later they began to seek additional funding to expand the business and read about the benefits of the CI grant. Ryan recalls: “After we got set up, someone asked if we had looked at some of the funding institutions in the Caribbean and we hadn’t. I wish that I’d looked earlier and known more about the support provided by Caribbean Export to help businesses achieve success.”
“We listened to some of the webinars which made us think about how the company should be structured and understand more about where the opportunities are as well as our strengths and weaknesses. We saw the grant and it was a good opportunity to not put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to where we get our financing. The more I heard about the grant tool the more it seemed like we were a logical fit. We’re a small business and it’s a tough environment so we’re always looking for any support available. Beyond financial support we also needed business advice and counsel to help in areas where we’re not experts.”
Ryan explains why the business investor wanted to get involved: “The person has property in Grenada, is passionate about the island and wants the country to succeed. They are also interested in sustainability and the environment and really saw the potential for this opportunity.”
CI grant benefits
The grant funding has already been utilised by the company to launch a new bottle size and it has also been adjusting its recipes as it attempts to boost domestic sales and appeal to international customers.
Ryan states: “We’re proud of the pure and simple nature of our product but we do use some sugar. In today’s juicing market that’s not the trend, so the grant has enabled us to look at alternative ingredients. We’re also expanding the line of some of the products we’re creating. So we’ve recently launched fresh, raw coconut water which is doing really well. We want to explore ways to get that out to export markets in that form, without pasteurising, so it stays healthy and natural.”
Ryan says the grant has already enabled the business to revamp its logos and branding and enabled them to hire two new sales staff to help them grow and compete with established international companies in the natural fruit juice space such as Innocent and Naked.
She adds: “People are excited about the tropical fruit flavours and eventually we’d like to be able to take that taste of the Caribbean abroad. The grant will allow us to market our product better and help us to differentiate ourselves as an island product. We’re just hoping that we can translate our message to the consumers and they realise what we’re trying to achieve here. But I think we could do a better job of using social media and when trying to compete with other companies with bigger marketing budgets and the grant will help us do that.”
Summer currently produces nine flavours of pasteurised juices and nectars without preservatives or added colourings such as mango, passion fruit and soursop, along with fresh raw coconut, lemongrass and ginger waters and is available in four out of five stores on Grenada.
The company has previously exported to St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad, Barbados, America, Switzerland and the UK but has not been able to establish a “regular shipping schedule.” However, Ryan hopes the CI grant will change that, along with bolstering secondary marketing support.
She says: “There’s a challenge with our product because the cost of air shipping is prohibitive and the trade routes between the islands are not as strong as we would like. We exported to Barbados one time and I think what we did wrong was not provide enough marketing support for our customer. So we learnt a good lesson there in that if you are going to export you have to help sell it on the other side.
“But there are some unique challenges presented working in the Caribbean – issues such as accessing markets which is a bit more difficult in terms of the transportation systems, the end of the supply chain and some of the infrastructure costs are high, so it’s nice to be able to tap into any support mechanism that is available.”
Going forward the company hopes to increase its current staff headcount from 17 employees and could even move into developing a product offering for the tourism industry with tours of the production facility.
Ryan explains: “There are integration opportunities because we’ve had about a hundred people asking to see our facility to look at the process because they’re interested in knowing how you pick a coconut or mango and make it into juice. So we can see the potential for farmers to show tourists how it all works. Also we’re up in the north of the country where unemployment is traditionally high so any integration with tourism in this area would be an exciting opportunity.”
She also had a word of advice for other businesses in the region: “We came in thinking that we knew everything and didn’t need help but I would say that you need to take advantage of the different support mechanisms that are available through mentorships, grants and other financial tools.
“Do lots of research to understand the culture of the business environment and be resourceful.
“The good thing is that there is plenty of room for lots of successful businesses in the Caribbean region and people really want you to succeed.”
LINK-Caribbean is an initiative of the World Bank Group’s Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC), a seven-year, CA$20 million programme funded by the government of Canada that seeks to build a supportive ecosystem for high-growth and sustainable enterprises throughout the Caribbean and is implemented by the Caribbean Export Development Agency.