GraceKennedy Ltd., parent company of GraceKennedy Foods (USA) (Grace Foods), started in Jamaica in 1922 as a small trading and wharf operations company. For more than 90 years, the group has grown into one of the Caribbean’s largest and most dynamic corporate entities with a network of some 50 subsidiaries and associated companies across the Caribbean, North and Central America, The United Kingdom, Europe and Africa.
Today the company’s scope of products and services is as diverse as its geographic footprint with operations spanning the areas of food processing and distribution to banking, finance, insurance and more. In 1995, the company developed its “2020 Vision,” an objective to transform from a Jamaican trading company to a global consumer group with roots on the island.
Home in Jamaica
While the company continues to grow, these roots remain the foundation of the business, says Michael Ranglin, CEO of GraceKennedy Foods – North America and CEO and president of GraceKennedy Foods (USA) LLC. “Despite global growth, our mission continues to be satisfying the unmet needs of Caribbean people wherever they live in the world,” he elaborates. “At our core, we’re known for integrity, honesty and gaining the trust of our customers through products and services. We are equally well-known for quality and taste of our food products.” ”
GraceKennedy dates back to 1922 when W.R. Grace, an American and Fred W. Kennedy, a Jamaican, started trying to find ways to supply Jamaica with basic necessities. “It started out as a mixed bag of items, but primarily staple products such as rice, salted fish, flour and some produce,” says Ranglin.
“We have grown over the last 93 years because of our attention to detail as well as our production of authentic, delicious tasting products,” adds Ranglin. “We have solid record and reputation for corporate governance and live by our values of honesty, integrity and trust.”
This scope of products includes a range of beverages, sauces and condiments, vegetables and beans, canned meats and fish, frozen meats, soups, instant porridge and oats and coconut products – all with flair true to the Caribbean.
Global product positioning
While the company’s primary position has been supplying Jamaica and surrounding atolls, Grace Foods has made a concerted effort to expand into the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Europe and recently, Africa. “In the early days, we were a very diverse company, operating in insurance, trading, shipping, retail and banking,” explains Ranglin. “We have now evolved into a major importer-exporter of food in several different countries and a supplier of insurance and banking services in the Caribbean.” ”
Ranglin heads up the Grace Foods operation in the U.S. from an office in New Jersey. Grace Foods has established a serious online presence by way of Buygracefoods.com, as a partnership between GraceKennedy and eDIASPORA LLC. “We set up Buygracefoods.com in response to so much U.S. demand,” explains Ranglin. “The site is aimed at providing an efficient and hassle-free online shopping experience for Grace Foods’ products.”
The site stocks a range of beverages such as tropical fruit punch and Aloe vera juices, as well as Grace hot pepper sauce, guava jelly, jerk seasoning and other meat seasonings. Inventory also includes canned mackerel, banana chips, cornmeal and banana porridge and ginger-lemon tea – a whole range of items traditionally found within the Caribbean islands.
With 40 percent of manufacturing done in-house, Grace Foods has a global network of facilities. “The company as a whole currently has five factories between Jamaica and Wales, employing some 2,200 people worldwide,” details Ranglin. “We’re preparing to supplement the power sources used in our factories by adding solar systems to help control operating costs and diminish our carbon footprint. The Wales factory has already undergone a major upgrade and our Jamaican factories are constantly upgrading.”
Entering the Hispanic foods market
Grace Foods’ U.S. operation was once the only business unit in the GK Foods Division that did its distribution through third party distributors. However that changed in July 2014, when GraceKennedy purchased the assets of U.S. based Hispanic food company, La Fe.
La Fe is a strong brand amongst Hispanic consumers, particularly in the frozen-foods category. As a result of the acquisition, the company’s U.S operation is poised to grow rapidly.
“We’re expanding our product portfolio to include a line of Hispanic food products, with a heavy emphasis on frozen fruits, vegetables and traditional meal solutions,” says Ranglin. .
“This has facilitated our ability to serve this new segment as we continue to serve our loyal Caribbean consumers with Grace branded products,” adds Ranglin. Furthermore, Grace Foods has purchased distribution infrastructure, shipping brands throughout the southern and northeastern U.S. “The potential for significant growth is clear,” adds Ranglin. “There are new channels and products that will be added in the future.”
U.S. expansion has been a success thus far because Grace Foods is attune with its customers’ needs and wants. “We are going to be a full service food company that offers Hispanic, Caribbean and other foods to the market,” says Ranglin. “We will develop critical mass by increasing our sales and distribution capabilities across more states than we serve now. We will add to our product portfolio based on what consumers tell us they want from us. We plan to be the largest part of the food operation for our group of companies worldwide.”
Pushing for quality products and community
Ranglin says this expansion has come naturally thanks to Grace Foods’ focus on perfecting authentic recipes and providing consistency in flavor while modernizing preparation. “We’re known as a company that produces high quality, consistent and authentic tasting products, while focusing on service, quality and corporate responsibility,” measures Ranglin.
“GraceKennedy’s mantra is ‘we care,’ and as a large company, we’re very active in the community, assisting in any way we can for the development of those communities and the people who live there,” adds Ranglin. “In fact we were voted one of the top companies in the island for honesty and integrity. We are also encouraged as employees to get involved in philanthropy, and give back to the community, in our own lives.”
Moving the mission forward
Beyond community connections, consumers in the Caribbean and the world over have come to rely on Grace Foods for quality, consistent Caribbean products. “Managing our supply chain is very important to our overall business because it’s a matter of constant monitoring of product and procedures to ensure everything that goes out is consistently good,” says Ranglin. “Our plan for the next couple of years is to continue to focus on operational excellence and new products and channels. Expansion to new territories is good, but we’re not going to do that if it means sacrificing service and quality.”
The company’s global growth extends from strong supply partnerships. “GraceKennedy does business worldwide with many supply partners and international brand owners,” says Ranglin. “On the financial side, Western Union is a leading strategic business partner, while in the food division, there are key food brands served by GraceKennedy distribution operations in each market. We truly value these relationships and will continue to build these businesses on behalf of our partners.”
What started as a small exporting business on the shipping docks in Jamaica is now a global conglomerate. But amid consistent growth, the GraceKennedy Group has remained true to its mission: “To satisfy the unmet needs of Caribbean people wherever we live in the world.” GraceKennedy Foods is doing its part to bring this mission to the U.S. and emerging markets.