Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship alumni, Craslyn Benjamin, is making great strides across her hometown in Jamaica with her food and beverage company: Benlar Foods.
Thanks to the company’s innovative business model and organically-grown produce, Craslyn has been able to quadruple staff numbers and increase revenue by over 500 per cent – all in the space of one year.
Today we’re sharing the story behind her business success, her lessons learnt with the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Caribbean, and her advice for up-and-coming business owners in the Caribbean.
Tell us about Benlar Foods and the industry you’re operating in
Benlar Foods is in the food and beverage industry with a specific focus on health, traceability and best practice industry standards. We intend to include innovative offerings such as a herbal water line as well as organic spices and seasoning made with locally grown produce such as sorrel, marijuana, ginger and fever grass to name a few, in addition to fulfilling our vision in becoming a global consumer brand.
Our business is currently modifying its production and operations to meet demand
During the drought phase in 2015, farmers across Jamaica suffered immensely and were unable to meet the growing demand of the hotels and local consumers of fresh produce. It was during that time our company picked up a contact with the local franchise holders of Burger King and Popeye's. Our business model is heavily built on strategic production forecasting, whereby we grow specifically for our customers based on planned demand. This practice has allowed us the leverage supply and keeps our contracts, while providing our customers with quality produce consistently.
We are also focusing heavily on organically grown produce. Not many farms have organic certification in Jamaica and we hope to attain that status. The need for healthy, non GMO fruits and vegetables is important to consumers and so our business is currently modifying its production and operations to meet demand.
Where does your passion for business stem from?
I am a determined, confident and strong-willed Jamaican black woman – with a deep desire to achieve and prosper in life. I successfully achieved one of my major goals by becoming the first person in my family to acquire tertiary education, which was done independently. Through this experience, I’ve learned a great deal of humility, courage and endurance along the way.
I was raised by my grandfather who assumed responsibility for me and did his best to take care of me. I’ve been able to overcome financial challenges in my childhood, which I know has shaped the person I am today. He believes in me in a way that encourages me tremendously. I always look on the bright side of life no matter what. I’ll admit I can be over passionate and controlling at times, especially if things aren’t going the way that I think they should go, but overall I believe my outlook for the future is very clear.
I see myself as a work in progress. I’m working towards achieving my ultimate goal of becoming a successful businesswoman. Being persistent at pursuing planned goals helps me to maintain a level-head in times of triumph and disappointment.
What year did you start with the Branson Centre and why did you decide to make contact?
I started with the centre in 2016. The truth is my inspiration was another Branson Centre Entrepreneur, Patria Kaye Aarons. We both worked at the same conglomerate in Jamaica and I saw how the Branson Centre had impacted her life in a positive way after she decided to become an entrepreneur. She reinvented herself completely by becoming an entrepreneur that many young Jamaicans aspire to be. And so, because of my own desire to become a successful entrepreneur, I decided to reach out to the Branson Centre with the intentions of having a life-changing experience.
How has the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship helped transform your business idea into a reality?
I thought I had a business plan prior to the Branson Centre, until I was enrolled in the programme and began to realise that it needed tons of work! The Branson Centre has helped me to structure and streamline my idea into a solid business plan, which led to growth in our customer base.
Since then some of my business accomplishments have included:
- The local supermarket chain was wowed by our concept of forecast production, thus landing us a contract to supply the entire chain all across the island.
- We are considered as one of the key suppliers of fresh escallion and callaloo to a major agro-processing group in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. To date, the quality of our callaloo remains the best they have received, as per their reports.
- Because we operate on a forecasted basis, crops have grown on demand for specific customers. As a result, our company has issued five contracts to farmers in St. Thomas and St. Elizabeth to grow specific crops.
How are you ensuring that Benlar Foods has a positive impact in the surrounding community and environment?
The social impact side to our business is an extremely huge community focus. To date, we have provided employment for over 30 people within the southern Jamaican community of Treasure Beach and Lacovia, a farming district both in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. We have given these farmers the opportunity to produce and plan their production on a consistent basis through our production forecasting strategy. We also partner with farmers to provide capacity building training through workshops, which continues to solidify our company's potential for continued partnership with farmers across the island.
Additionally, in my spare time, I value any opportunity I get to interact with young people. I love teaching and I enjoy hosting workshops that speaks to community development and transformation.
What benefits have you seen since carving out your own niche?
The benefits of practicing production forecasting are vast. With planned demand for produce we get the benefit of selling our crops without the concern and hassle of finding a market. Since we started organic farming, we recognised that the demand is great, not just locally but also for exports. As a result, we are currently seeking investment to expand our agricultural production to meet the demand.
What is the most important thing that running a business has taught you?
You have to work hard! In running a successful business, hard work is the name of the game to achieve your desired result. I’ve also learned that it is risky, but I’ve resolved to live by the mantra, “You can be, do or have anything you desire, you just have to work hard enough.”