Updated: Jan 30, 2020
First published on Linkedin February 12, 2019
I’m old enough to remember the late Carmeta Fraser, that Bajan (Barbadian) powerhouse of a woman, food advocate and former Senator. Her “Food comes first” mantra echoed her belief that agricultural production and development ought to be a top priority for government to reduce food imports. I can still recall Fraser on television demonstrating how to prepare several dishes and preservatives from locally grown food, all the while encouraging the viewer to grow, buy and eat local. She was to Barbados what Julia Child was to the United States, but so much more.
So it’s fitting that a brand named in her honour concentrates on adding value to Bajan grown crop produce and meats. Today you’ll find Carmeta’s range of gluten-free flours and flour mixes processed from local breadfruit, cassava and sweet potato in major local supermarkets. The brand extends to gluten-free cookies, cakes, and desserts as well as seasoned meats.
What’s more impressive is that this can truly be called a national brand - it was an initiative of the Barbados government through the Barbados Agricultural Marketing Corporation (BADMC). Yes, it’s state-owned.
The BADMC is the successor to the Food Promotion Unit of the Barbados Marketing Corporation, where Fraser herself was a driving force in the eighties and nineties. I’d go as far as to say that the BADMC is an unsung hero in local innovation in the agribusiness sector demonstrated in the work behind developing the Carmeta’s family of products.
In any case Carmeta’s brand has made it to my favorite Bajan brands list for 5 reasons.
Powerful brand story of legacy and national pride - it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Carmeta’s is the fruition of Fraser’s vision for growing, buying and eating local. National efforts in food science and testing, product development and marketing make the brand a gem of local achievement. But it is the universally appealing story of a woman driven by something she truly believed in that makes Carmeta’s a power brand.
Relevance - breadfruit, cassava, sweet potato, and other ground provisions formed the backbone of bajan diets up to a half a century ago. It was the affordable way for the majority of our families to have a meal. Now years later we can use both the raw ingredients and their value-added Carmeta’s products to create all-Bajan meals.
Valuable market niche - the global wellness economy is said to be a USD$4.2 trillion market of which USD$702 billion is contributed by the healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss sector [2018, Global Wellness Institute]. Gluten-free, grass-fed, low cholesterol, non-gmo, are the labels we’re taught to look for in healthier products and Carmeta’s is perfectly matched for this niche. It is an excellent candidate for export, even if the start point is the Barbados Diaspora and in fact, this seems to be happening to some limited extent in the UK market. On the flip side, locally, Carmeta’s is well-placed to compete with similar international health foods on our shelves and even reduce their importation. Carmeta would be proud (but not satisfied I’m sure).
Retail Distribution - local supermarkets and shops carry the brand but the BADMC showed great resolve in deciding to also develop Carmeta’s branded retail shops from which to sell the products. This was a show of confidence in the brand and a meaningful way to create greater visibility and a self-owned distribution channel. E-commerce channel next?
Brand innovation and product development - Carmeta herself is credited with experimenting tirelessly to create new recipes and the Food Innovation Units of the BADMC have continued experimenting, testing and developing. Cassava or sweet potato sorbets anyone?
Precedent - traditionally the agribusiness sector in Barbados is so focused on rum and other sugar-related products, that brands like Carmeta’s tend to remain in the background in national conversation. There is however, a terrific opportunity to learn from its story and create a formula for sustainable agribusiness in other non-sugar sectors.
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