With its distribution plans curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and dreams of expansion plans hobbled by the absence of capital, Sharon Tucker and her team are pressing on, convinced that in Hapi Crunch, they have a very good thing on their hands – made from local natural fruits.
Hapi Crunch has invested in ensuring that healthful affordable Jamaican fruit snacks can be enjoyed enjoy throughout the year, even when the crops are out of season.
The range of fruits dried and packaged includes mango, ripe plantain, ripe banana, and jackfruit. It also produces coconut bites and a peanut mix, and as CEO Tucker explained, there are also other exciting combinations, such as chocolate with Blue Mountain coffee and coconut vibes with honey and arrowroot.
Tucker said that everything manufactured by Hapi Crunch, which operates from Linstone Crescent in St Andrew, is natural and healthy, sourced from farmers all across the island.
“We do everything here – dry and package and then distribute,” she said.
Products in the Hapi Crunch line are distributed in a number of health stores, with plans to hit airport stores as well. A number of its distribution deals have been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a fall-off in business.
The company currently employs five full-time staff, who work three days processing the snacks, but once the pandemic has eased, Hapi Crunch will be ramping up production with its eye on a new line.
“Our snacks have no preservatives. No salt or sugar added. All we do is to take the moisture out, so all the nutrients are preserved and you can travel with them, and don’t have to worry about spoilage,” Tucker told The Gleaner. “Eventually, we want to get down the road of medicinal edibles.”
Despite the global economic downturn caused by COVID-19, Hapi Crunch is holding its own. However, it needs more capital to drive its expansion plans.
After four years of operation, the company was certified by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica last year, and following its nominations in the New Foods category in the Jamaica Observer Food Awards two years ago, it was invited back again for last year’s awards, which did not take place because of COVID-19.
These are encouraging signs, however, for the struggling entrepreneur.
“We intend to branch out to the Caribbean with some help from the Government, we hope,” said Tucker, adding that she was directed to the Ministry of Finance for assistance due to losses from the pandemic.
“We are looking to source funds now, and I am going back to where I got the first loan to see what they can do to help us to upgrade and get out there. We are a small company and we need help. Where do we go for help?” she asked.
During a visit to look at the processing operations, the Gleaner team was subjected to a stringent cleansing protocol, which included covers for shoes and hand sanitisation. We were already wearing face masks.
Tucker washed her hands thoroughly before demonstrating how ripe bananas were cut into very thin slices then placed on a tray before being put into the dryer. The drying can take seven hours or more, she explained, pointing out that the Gros Michel was her preferred banana variety, since it dries much quicker than others, such as the Lakatan.
The products have found favour, especially with children, and provide healthful snack options as the Ministry of Health and Wellness tries to get Jamaicans to eat fewer products with added salt and sugar in its ongoing war on non-communicable diseases.
Tucker also pointed out that the dried banana, for instance, can be used to make smoothies and drink combinations, since one just has to add water and the product is reconstituted with all its natural flavours and nutrients.