The size and scope of the so-called roots drinks market in Jamaica remains largely cloaked by the informal nature of the trade.
But having experienced a downturn during the health crisis, the market is regaining strength as sole trader DTOS Woodland Roots Natural Juice and Sauce recently found as an exhibitor at the re-energised Expo Jamaica trade show.
Roots drinks are somewhat akin to energy tonics, but have a titillating reputation not only as health drinks but as a beverage that boosts the libido, especially for males. Or at least that’s how they are positioned.
It’s no accident that two of the roots flavours produced by DTOS Woodland are called Hard Driver and Power Man, but sole trader and principal owner Oliver Welsh also sells a ginseng option.
In all, Welsh has six drink products in his portfolio – the roots drinks as well as three juice drinks: moringa, noni-sorrel and guava-sorrel. And he’s feeling bullish about business in the wake of the trade show that was staged at the end of April.
But the interest in his roots drinks also served to remind him that he needed to reform his operation. The show generated a number of orders for DTOS Woodland, but Welsh does not have the capacity to supply the demand.
As such, the sole trader told the Financial Gleaner in an interview that he was considering adding workers, and moving the operation out of his home in Greater Portmore, St Catherine and into leased factory space to increase DTOS Woodland’s output.
Aside from DTOS Woodland, there are at least two other ventures said to be certified by Bureau of Standards Jamaica – Baba Roots and Neem Ya Roots. A request for an updated list from the standards agency was unanswered up to press time.
Colin Porter, technical services manager at the Jamaica Business Development Corporation, says the beverages tend to generate a lot of interest, especially in online channels but transporting the product can actually be dangerous.
“Via e-commerce channels, roots drink or roots wine has a very high rate for searches. Individuals are always searching for options for roots related drinks,” said Porter.
“The market claims that these drinks aid in things like stamina, wellness and so on, especially for the males. There is a high demand but there are issues with moving the product over a long distance because it is very volatile. It has the potential to explode a lot in packages,” he said.
JBDC, a state agency that offers training to micro entrepreneurs and provides a retail conduit for their goods calls Things Jamaica, had to remove roots drinks from its own e-commerce site.
That’s because “either they would explode at the courier or in shipping and the clients would get their bottles broken”, said Porter.
“So, it is very volatile in terms of its stability,” he added.
Welsh said all his main ingredients are sourced in Jamaica, with the only exception being ginseng, which is imported.
Altogether, the entrepreneur has over 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, having been employed at several restaurants and hotels locally and overseas as a waiter and chef.
Welsh ventured into business after working for years in the hotel industry, and started out by selling almond juice.
“I got the raw material from an almond tree I had planted many years ago. [But] I wasn’t satisfied with staying at this level, so I began making roots drinks and natural juice,” he said.
“I later registered as a sole trader business, trading as DTOS Woodland Roots, Natural Drinks and Sauce.”
And now the business has been in operation for 11 years.
“The root drinks are very potent and as such a higher percentage are consumed by the males,” he said.
“Females also partake. They usually purchase the moringa and sorrel drinks,” he added.
DTOS Woodland products are distributed locally through health food store Clamars Holistic; grocery retailers in Kingston and St Catherine such as St Jago Supermarket, AJ’s Supermarket, General Foods, Lee’s Supermarket, Loshusan Barbican, John R Wong, Master Mac and Surftoget, as well as Woolworth in downtown Kingston.
Welsh said all his products are tested by the Bureau of Standards and the trademark has been registered with Jamaica Intellectual Property Office.
To date he has invested over $2 million in the business, which generates annual sales of $2 million to $3 million, he said. His challenges over the years have largely been centred on adequate supplies of packaging, and acquiring capital and affordable production and storage space. The problems with packaging have resulted in the temporary removal of Welsh’s one spice product, cayenne pepper, from the market.
As for the volatility issue surrounding the transport of roots drinks, JBDC is weighing how it can be resolved.
Janine Fletcher-Taylor, who handles marketing services at JBDC, said DTOS Woodland relationship with the agency was initiated through the Things Jamaican Market Access Programme.
Welsh came “to increase his market awareness and now he is doing quite well on his own … he came in with a prototype, went to the food incubator to stabilise the formulation and get it registered and going through the Bureau of Standards and all of those regulatory bodies,” said Fletcher-Taylor.
“For export, we definitely have to figure out how we balance the fact that products in that category are typically not amended with any sort of additives, and so on, that could possibly stabilise the product…” she added.
“That’s not my area, of course – a food technologist would be better at this – but I know that’s something that we would have experienced shipping it,” the marketing services officer said.