Sun | Jun 7, 2020

Ex-cop, spouse take on condiments market

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2019 | 12:00 AMHuntley Medley - Senior Business Writer
Carolyn Rose Miller holds up a package of Liberton seasonings, while her husband Herman Miller looks on.
Ginger seasoning made by Liberton Industries.

Ex-cop Herman Miller and wife Carolyn Rose Miller only have two products in their condiments range.

And it would be easy to assume that their company is a long-standing player in the market, given the product packaging, slick promotional materials, and set-up for in-store tasting. But Liberton Industries is just a fledgling micro operation with big ambitions.

“We are a small business, but the idea is not to look small,” says Carolyn, Liberton’s managing director in charge of marketing and export.

“We wanted a local and international appeal, so we have invested a lot of time and money into our testing, production, packaging and labelling,” she said.

Carolyn is a public sector employee, who works full-time as divisional manager for communications at the Scientific Research Council, the SRC. Her husband, Herman, is a retired superintendent of police, and operations director for Liberton, overseeing the sourcing of raw materials and the manufacturing of the all-purpose seasoning and cinnamon ginger sauce produced by Liberton on a full-time basis.

The company takes its name from a small farm the couple operates in St Mary.

While the long-term aim is to grow their own herbs and spices for the business, raw materials are now sourced from farmers mainly in St Elizabeth. The products are nutrition-tested and manufactured at the Hope Complex-based SRC in Kingston, which makes its processing facilities available at a cost to small-scale manufacturers.

This saves the Millers the start-up challenge of acquiring expensive equipment. Raw materials for the production are also stored at the SRC, providing another solution for the Millers.

“They are very supportive and the standards of production are very high. There is no room for contamination and you have a high-quality product for the Jamaican market and for export,” said Herman, who operates full time in the business.

The products are also tested and passed by Bureau of Standards Jamaica and the business is registered as an exporter with the state marketing agency, Jampro.

As to what led to an ex-cop and his working wife venturing into business, it turns out that Herman likes to experiment in the kitchen.

“Mr Miller has always loved to cook and during a period when I was ill, he experimented with all-natural ingredients and blending the herbs and spices for use in his cooking,” Rose Miller explained during an interview with the Financial Gleaner.

The result of those experimentations led to seasonings that were a hit with family members, neighbours and friends. The orders for seasoning began to roll in, some for gallons at a time.

After five years of fine-tuning the formula, Rose Miller convinced her husband to approach her workplace, which has for years built a reputation working with micro entrepreneurs in product development, testing, manufacturing, standardisation, and marketing, among other services.

On his retirement from the Jamaica Constabulary Force early last year, after serving for 39 years, the Millers took the decision to formalise the venture as a business name with plans for incorporation later.

For two years up to the culmination of his law enforcement career, Miller had been testing his seasoning at his workplace, catering for year-end events hosted by the now shuttered Mobile Reserve division of the force. Miller says the bulk of his pension payments is now used as investment in the manufacturing of the products.

Liberton makes and bottles authentic Jamaican sauces and spices with a shelf life of 18 months, kept fresh by the natural preserving properties of vinegar and pepper. The company aims to expand its product lines to dips, dressings and sauces, all made from Jamaican plants.

As small-scale newbies in the business, the principals of Liberton say market penetration is a challenge as several established brands are already on the shelves, making supermarket operators hesitant to stock their products.

They contend however, that the all-natural ingredients and a unique taste differentiate their seasoning and sauce, which are not to be confused with other jerk seasoning products, which they are not, but can be used in jerk preparation.

And even at a premium price, a bit above most other brands in stores, the Millers say once persons try their products, they tend to make repeat purchases.

“We need to spend more time doing in-store promotions as the product is new and need more brand awareness,” Rose Miller concedes.

Despite the market penetration challenge, a few retailers have come on board and the products are available at Joong Supermarket in Portmore, St Catherine; at General Foods in Ocho Rios, St Ann and Liguanea, Kingston; and in one shop at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.

The Millers are also testing the export market, with samples of the 5-ounce bottles of the sauce and 10-ounce jars of seasoning, as well as gift packages with both, being mailed overseas through Jamaica Post.

Social media marketing and participation in expos have been sources of direct selling, and a website with e-commerce features is said to be in the planning stages. In the areas of expo participation and social media marketing the business is assisted by the Millers’ daughter, Shanique, a dentistry student.

Having invested just over $1 million in the micro venture from salary and savings, production volumes have been inching up from increased sales and batches of 90 gallons are now being made each week, and the Millers are preparing next to seek financing to scale the business to to expand distribution to restaurants and hotels..

“Over time we will definitely be employing more people,” the entrepreneurs note.