Vivs Manna — taking a slice of the US breadfruit market

Observer senior writer

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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Whenever Vivienne Green travelled to South Florida from Jamaica to visit her parents, her mother always made the same request. She wanted breadfruit from home, and when she got them, she made sure the hard-to-get produce lasted for months.

“What she did was freeze them, so sometimes when I went back months later she still had them fresh,” Green told the Jamaica Observer.

Four years ago, the former journalist and her three children launched Vivs Manna, a company that exports frozen breadfruit to South Florida and Washington state. In the Sunshine state, the company services major outlets like Sanwa Farmer's Market as well as smaller stores, while in Washington where Green lives, the company has a presence in Latin and Samoan-owned stores.

This week, Green shops her product to the Jamaican market with a booth at the April 19-22 Jamaica Manufacturers' Association Expo which takes place at the National Arena and National Indoor Sports Centre.

“We hope to bring more awareness to the product among Jamaicans. You have people out there who are still used to going to the market and getting the product, so we want to show the versatility of the breadfruit,” she said.

Though she monitors Vivs Manna's operations from Washington, Green's daughter Lisa does most of the legwork in Jamaica, purchasing breadfruit from farmers in Portland, St Thomas and St Mary. They are then taken to the company's base in Kingston for processing (by as many as 10 workers) which includes sanitising, peeling, slicing and packaging.

Next step is flying the cargo to South Florida where it is cleared and disbursed to clients.

Since the business got off the ground, size of shipments vary depending on demand. The largest to date has been 350 pounds of breadfruit.

“Ideally, we would like to bring up a container but we are still operating on a small scale,” Green explained.

This monthly process, she added, costs just over US$1,000, a demanding amount for a young enterprise. But Green, who works in the health sector, said things have gradually improved.

“The income has increased exponentially. Last year was the break-even year but we haven't realised a profit as yet.” She disclosed that Vivs Manna made US$30,000 in 2017.

South Florida's massive West Indian population are the company's biggest customers in that region. In Washington, a state with an increasingly diverse demographic, the breadfruit is popular in cities like Tacoma. There, Vivs Manna's biggest customers are Latin stores such as El Mercado.

The export business is an entirely different ball game for 54-year-old Green, a former journalist with the Jamaica Information Service and Jamaica Observer. She migrated to the United States 15 years ago with her sons, Lyle and Andrew, initially settling in Tampa, Florida.

She admits it is difficult competing with major players in the breadfruit export game, including the government-run Rural Agricultural Development Authority and privately owned Jamaica Producers.

Levelling the playing field, Green argues, would make things easier for independent companies like Vivs Manna.

“I don't feel the Jamaica government considers us as small business people. They don't give as much waivers and concessions anymore, I guess because they have to meet their international demands,” she said. “But people like the product, they were a little suspicious at first but gradually they have come to like it.”




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