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JMEA to launch Project Amazon

Some 20 micro, small and medium-sized manufacturers will next month participate in a training and development workshop led by Amazon strategist OnPointe Consultants, an exercise that organiser the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association sees as a first step in addressing the issue of limited shelf space for local products in international grocery stores.

The project has financial backing from Development Bank of Jamaica and EXIM Bank, and is the first in a series of Amazon workshops being planned by the JMEA to gin up export sales of local manufacturers through greater use of the e-commerce website which today attracts over 200 million global customers.

It’s also timely, coming on the heels of Amazon granting country status to Jamaica in 2021, a move that allows suppliers to register on the site using their local credentials. Previously, registration had to be done through a third party based in the United States, which restricted access to many Jamaicans.

JMEA represents over 400 members, approximately 80 per cent of which are MSMEs.

It will launch Project Amazon today in New Kingston, following which the trade association in partnership with OnPointe Consultants will walk through topics such as establishing an Amazon presence, category and product gating, product shipment and labelling, product listing along with learning key features of Amazon service metrics with the first cohort of manufacturers.

The JMEA represents over 400 members, approximately 80 per cent of which are MSMEs. The select participants will be trained for eight weeks, starting September 6, 2022.

In the first instance, the training is expected to help local companies move in tandem with the growing online shopping trend since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, while addressing concerns of limited shelf spacing in major supermarkets.

“Large companies like Wisynco and GraceKennedy have limited opportunity to reach their mainstream consumers in the US because most of the distributors in the US who buy from Jamaican companies cater more to the Jamaican mom and pop shops, and generally to areas where there is a large Jamaican population. But of course, Jamaicans are spread out throughout the US,” JMEA President John Mahfood told the Financial Gleaner.

He added that while distributors do sell to mainstream supermarkets such as Walmart, Publix Supermarket and Winn-Dixie, the mainstream supermarkets generally only take Jamaican products in communities where there is a large Jamaican population.

“One of the issues with the mainstream supermarkets is that they don’t display your products in the mainstream aisle. They generally list your products in the ethnic or international aisle as they say, and give you very limited shelf spacing.

“So the biggest distributors in the US who buy Jamaican products may only get 16 feet of shelf space in a supermarket and yet they are representing many Jamaican companies, with hundreds of products. You can imagine if a Wisynco or Seprod cannot get the full presentation of their products in the big supermarkets, much less the smaller players,” Mahfood said.

Locally made products are much better represented in the Caribbean, Mahfood said, and it’s an area JMEA intends on placing more energy to drive up the number of local companies doing business within the region, as well as to increase the quantity of local goods shipped to the Caribbean.

But the emphasis, for now, is on the United States, one of the top three export destinations for local companies. A country with almost 314 million consumers, the US offers excellent opportunities for Latin American and Caribbean producers, and allows local companies to boost their bottom line from foreign currency sales, while building their competitiveness.

Jamaica’s exports to the United States were valued at more than US$670 million in 2021, outpacing trade worth US$547 million in 2020, the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are many small players whose products are well represented in Jamaica, but not in the US and they will never be able to sell their products through the normal distribution channel that Jamaican companies are accustomed to,” Mahfood said.

Home Choice Jamaica, a producer of spices, sauce, juices and condiments, has set a target to grow export to 60 per cent of overall revenue by mid-2023, up from its current performance of 35 per cent.

CEO Kareema Muncey has high hopes that the upcoming workshop will help the company get to that number given the potential to reach more customers in the US through the website. But the CEO is also looking to address other matters through the launch of Home Choice’s own webpage on Amazon.

“Our goods are sold on Amazon by customers that buy our products for resale, and so the Home Choice brand has a presence online. But with training from the workshop we intend to launch our own page and in doing so it will help us to control product quality and pricing,” Muncey told the Financial Gleaner.

“In one instance we got a complaint from a customer about the product taste and we’re of the view that that seller may not have been storing the product properly or may have sold a product too close to the expiration date,” she said.

The entire spend on the workshop will run some $2.3 million. Three months after the workshop is completed, the JMEA will reach out to participants to assess their progress. Another impact assessment study will be conducted in September 2023.

The JMEA says it will be engaging more cohorts for the Amazon training project, but is still going through the details.

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