The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has pumped an additional $469,000 USD into the region’s specialty food sector via a Supplemental Grant to the Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) under the Caribbean Aid for Trade and Regional Integration (CARTFund) Programme, which is funded by the Department for International Development (DfID).

The region’s specialty foods include a range of processed foods and beverages that typically can command a premium price due to characteristics such as their high quality ingredients, sensory appeal, branding, packaging, and origin, among others. Despite the global economic downturn, consumers continue to purchase premium products. In fact there has been an increase in demand for sophisticated food products as consumers become more knowledgeable about food preparation and seek new culinary experiences.

There are some 300 agro-processors in CARIFORUM who face a number of constraints that hinder their expansion and competitiveness, and following the development of the Regional Specialty Foods Sector Strategy and Action Plan in 2012, a number of recommendations were made to strengthen and expand this important export sector. One of the primary activities, as a result of the allocation of these additional resources, will be to conduct a feasibility study and design of an in-market liaison service to support CARIFORUM Specialty Foods export to the EU and USA markets.

A service that provided greater exposure to the international requirements; wider distribution networks and marketing channels beyond the diaspora; and operational support such as centralized packaging or cold storage facilities inter alia, could be pivotal to our typically small and medium sized firms operating in this space.

While the export of products and services to the international market is a key contributor to the economic sustainability of our region, the opportunity for regional trade should not be over-looked. As such, market research on the demand for selected specialty foods in CARIFORUM markets will be conducted to ultimately promote inter-regional trade by highlighting export opportunities right here within the region. Markets to be covered include Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, St Lucia plus Trinidad and Tobago.

Ultimately, the development of the CARIFORUM specialty food industry, through the effective implementation of the Strategy and Action Plan, should produce results and real change for an industry that produces high quality, unique foods that embody Caribbean culture and heritage. However, the Action Plan will only succeed with the commitment, collaboration and coordination at the national level with the region’s business development and trade support organisations.

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