Rainforest Seafoods to build $100-million lobster facility

Rainforest Seafoods of Jamaica will begin exporting live Jamaican lobsters to China, Japan and South Korea by July.

The company, which has been incrementally expanding its product line over the years, is now in the process of constructing a $100-million lobster facility at its plant in Montego Bay to accommodate the 250,000 pounds of lobster it plans to export this year.

What’s more, the new venture will see an additional 20 people employed to manage plant operations and should create a large stimulus for the fishing communities on the south coast.

“There are opportunities out there,” chief executive officer of Rainforest Seafoods, Brian Jardim told the Jamaica Observer in an interview on Thursday. “The word Jamaica, and of course something premium like a lobster from Jamaica, is a big deal. You can’t have a wedding or any celebration in China and not serve Caribbean lobster.”

China, one of the world’s largest importers and consumers of seafood dishes, has substantially increased its demand for live lobsters since about 2009. Prior to that there was minimal interest by the Chinese in live lobster imports. The combined dollar value of all US lobster sold to China totalled just $74,651 in 2008. However, by 2010 live lobster demand had grown by 400 percent to $1.3 million and then to approximately $3 million in 2011, according to Global Trade Atlas.

Rainforest’s plan to push its export earnings to 50 percent of revenue by 2016 is now a step closer. Live lobsters will be shipped to the company’s Montego Bay plant and will be placed in water with a temperature of roughly 60 degrees – down from the usual 80 degrees – to slow down their heart rate, ultimately putting the lobsters to sleep.

“We will then ship them in styrofoam containers with a very special kind of wood that is shredded. This will help to make them feel cosy so that they don’t wake up during the 36-hour travel to get to markets like Japan, China and Korea,” Jardim told Sunday Finance.

Live lobster imported into the Asian market is sold to wholesale seafood markets, and then re-sold to high-end Chinese restaurants that demand premium, fresh seafood. Producers such as Florida, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Bahamas currently export the same species of lobster as Jamaica. But Jardim is optimistic that his company will have an edge over other suppliers as the market perceives Jamaican lobster to be a more exotic delicacy.