The COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a negative impact on many businesses, has, in several instances, spurred entrepreneurs to act quickly and decisively in order to keep their operations up and running.
One such, is owner of Neasha’s Island Vibz, Reneisha Wilson, who manufactures fruit flavoured pepper sauces, non-preservative fruit wines, and a personal care product line.
Ms. Wilson embarked on her entrepreneurial journey in 2017, having been inspired by a significant quantity of scotch bonnet peppers harvested from a single tree she had planted.
She indicates that the peppers were used to make a pickle sauce, which was introduced to the local market with the support of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC).
Ms. Wilson informs JIS News that prior to COVID-19, a typical day for her included going to the JBDC’s Resource Centre to manufacture and bottle her sauces.
She shares that the product generated mixed reviews, as while many persons liked it, others who were of the view that “this is a Jamaican thing, and everyone can make it”.
It dawned on Ms. Wilson then that she needed to pivot and adopt a new approach, by revamping the formula she had perfected, in order for the venture to blossom into a sustainable long-term success.
This decision was further spurred by the pandemic’s onset which disrupted Ms. Wilson’s business engagements.
“Business was slow. I approached several supermarkets who said they had a lot of pepper sauces in stock. So, I knew [that] I had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new,” she says.
After learning that there were several fruit trees, including mango and jackfruit, in her community of Padmore in St. Andrew, Ms. Wilson decided to source and infuse these and others into her formulation.
This led to the birth of a fruit flavoured pepper sauce, which was not widely known locally.
“I thought it was a good combination… to put both [sets of] ingredients together,” Ms. Wilson tells JIS News.
She points out that adding the fruits serves to temper the pepper’s spicy flavour, thereby making the sauce a little easier on the taste buds.
In order to make this new version of the sauce available in substantial quantities, Ms. Wilson would go to the JBDC Resource Centre where she would make approximately 140 bottles of the product during an eight-hour period, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
This process was made a little easier with the assistance she received from her daughter in preparing the ingredients at home.
The entrepreneur, who has a background in agro-processing, also introduced a variety of all-natural wines made from fruits such as star apple, jackfruit, and breadfruit, which are free of preservatives.
Ms. Wilson explains that the production of preservative-free wines entails an extended process to acquire the requisite colour and taste, consequent on no filtering being involved.
“Wine making is one of the easiest processes. All you have to do is gather the ingredients (fruits, water, and yeast), sanitise the bucket and then place the ingredients in the [sealed] bucket to ferment,” she further outlines.
The entrepreneur adds that “[normally] you would have to wait 21 days to do the first ‘throw-off’, consequent on there being no filtration involved.”
“If you want a wine that is not too strong (less alcohol), it can take one month after the 21 days before it is ready,” Ms. Wilson further states
To get wine with a greater volume of alcohol requires a minimum three-month fermentation process following the first throw-off.
The entrepreneur also launched her cosmetic and personal care line during the pandemic, which includes a variety of soaps, lip-balms, and haircare products.
Consequent on these engagements, a typical workday for Ms. Wilson now includes making schedules and timetables to ensure that all aspects of the business receive equal focus.
“I balance my… time by making a timetable/calendar and choosing special days to do production. On the days that I do wine making, I would not do sauces or cosmetic products,” she explains.
Ms. Wilson points out that while there are advantages to be derived from entrepreneurship, there are also challenges to contend with.
She says, thankfully, there are several entities, including the JBDC, which assisted her.
The enterprising entrepreneur shares that others, including the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), have figured positively her success, so far.
“I went to the BSJ, and I was instructed… what to do; I learned [about] the product criteria that I had to meet. I went to RADA and did several trainings. I [also] got myself involved with persons who could offer me the assistance I needed with developing my business, and I was introduced to the DBJ where I applied for a grant to fund my business,” Ms. Wilson informs.
Having overcome several challenges, including purchasing the incorrect bottles on occasions to package her products and product underpricing, Ms. Wilson encourages prospective entrepreneurs to affiliate themselves with persons and entities that can help them to build their brands.
She adds that “entrepreneurship is not easy. Sometimes you will lose and sometimes you will win; so, you must have a positive mindset when establishing a business.”
Ms. Wilson is optimistic about expanding her business, and is looking to establish a factory and creating employment for the youth in her community.