Feature
Marketing and Distribution Manager for Irie Lyfe, Barbara “Nzinga” Philbert-Allen (right), and daughter, Akilah Afrika Allen, with products on display during a Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) expo at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, earlier this year.
Photo: Contributed

Story Highlights

  • The versatility of honey, one of the most popular and widely used natural sweeteners, has been manifested in the range of value-added products manufactured by the St. Thomas-based entity, Irie Lyfe.
  • The business, which Jamaican entrepreneurs, Brian Allen, and wife, Barbara Philbert Allen, operate out of the pristine community of Airy Castle, manufactures, retails and distributes body and haircare products, condiments, and mosquito repellents for the local and regional markets.
  • Mrs. Allen, who met her husband while both were living in Canada, tells JIS News that Irie Lyfe evolved from the family’s bee-farming activities which they embarked on in 2012 as a source of supplemental income.

The versatility of honey, one of the most popular and widely used natural sweeteners, has been manifested in the range of value-added products manufactured by the St. Thomas-based entity, Irie Lyfe.

The business, which Jamaican entrepreneurs, Brian Allen, and wife, Barbara Philbert Allen, operate out of the pristine community of Airy Castle, manufactures, retails and distributes body and haircare products, condiments, and mosquito repellents for the local and regional markets.

Mrs. Allen, who met her husband while both were living in Canada, tells JIS News that Irie Lyfe evolved from the family’s bee-farming activities which they embarked on in 2012 as a source of supplemental income.

“Once we started to reap the benefits of beekeeping, which is honey, we then started exploring alternative ways to supply our children and close friends with a healthy alternative to sugar, and also healthy products we all could enjoy and put on the market to earn income,” she explains.

Mrs. Allen says in recognition of the highly competitive nature of the beekeeping industry, as a result of the significant number of farmers harvesting and selling honey, “we had to figure a way to differentiate ourselves from the market”.

To this end, Mr. and Mrs. Allen undertook product research, which led to the infusion of two popular products that are synonymous with Jamaica – ginger and Scotch bonnet pepper.

They used these to create unique condiments that can be used in culinary preparations or can double as a zingy preserve/spread that is consumed with bread or crackers, or a delicious mouth-watering dip for pretzels, chips or any other tasty snack.

“When we first introduced these products, persons queried ‘how is pepper going to work with something sweet like honey?’. But once they tasted it, they were amazed. It’s unbelievable just seeing the response and the positive effect on persons when they try these products,” Mrs. Allen says.

She adds that Irie Lyfe also harnesses wax produced by the bees to make viable income-earning products.

“We took a course with the St. Thomas Bee Farmers’ Cooperative on value-added products from bees, and that’s where we learned about the inputs that go into haircare products,” Mrs. Allen informs.

Marketing and Distribution Manager for Irie Lyfe, Barbara “Nzinga” Philbert-Allen (left), and son, Ayele Allen, inspect bee apiary.

 

They pursued this and with a little infused innovation, came up with another product – body yoghurt – of which she says Irie Lyfe manufactures six essential oils, and the hair oil.

“So, not only have we been able to generate a steady income… but we also provide healthy products to be enjoyed by our family, friends and clients and a healthy hair and skincare line, which are very beneficial and nourishing and free of synthetic chemicals, for the body,” Mrs. Allen indicates, while adding that the mosquito repellent “is also amazing”.

She tells JIS News that the products were formally introduced to the public through a weekend farmers’ market and bazaar in Kingston just over five years ago, which resulted in Irie Lyfe forging supply links with several businesses, including a well-known hotel chain.

“A representative came by one Saturday and she bought our mosquito repellent and tried our honey. She left and contacted us a week or so later. She had spoken to the manager of the gift shop and told us to expect a call. After the call, we came to agreements, and the rest is history, as they say,” she shares.

Additionally, Mrs. Allen says the products are now retailed by a company based in Half-Way Tree, noting that “they are carrying our regular honey and our mosquito repellent”.

Marketing and Distribution Manager for Irie Lyfe, Barbara “Nzinga” Philbert-Allen, displays a honeycomb frame.

 

Mrs. Allen tells JIS News that Irie Lyfe has benefited from invaluable support provided by the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), “with whom we have been associated for over a year now”.

“Not only are they keen on giving us the assistance we need to grow the business, but they are also some of our best customers,” she notes.

Mrs. Allen says the partnership between Irie Lyfe and the JBDC was forged after she attended a two-day proposal-writing workshop organised by the Corporation.

“I hadn’t really understood much about the JBDC… didn’t know what they were about. But after talking with them and sharing what we do [at Irie Lyfe], they were really excited about getting to know us and helping us as best they could,” she points out.

She was subsequently invited in her capacity as a female farmer to speak during a forum at the Denbigh Agricultural and Industrial Show in May Pen, Clarendon, in 2018. Thereafter, arrangements were initiated for Irie Lyfe’s products to be carried in the JBDC’s Things Jamaican stores, with plans for exports being explored.

Mrs. Allen notes that since then, Irie Lyfe has been registered with the Companies Office of Jamaica (COJ), adding that “we are a lot more comfortable as regards the steps we are supposed to be taking to make sure that our business is not only viable, but conforming to regulations and standards”.

Additionally, they recently exported their first shipment of products to The Bahamas and are looking to build out that undertaking to other regional markets and beyond, eventually.

She says the JBDC Chief Executive Officer, Valerie Veira, and the Corporation’s entire team “have been very supportive”.

Mrs. Allen points out that Irie Lyfe’s affiliation with the JBDC “affords us access to several benefits”.

Among these, she informs, are the services of a business development assistant “who provides guidance on how best to improve on what we are doing”.

“Through their workshops, seminars and expos, we are getting more exposure. In fact, we participated in their Christmas in July expo [staged in partnership with the Tourism Linkages Network], and we just got an order from one of the attendees. We are also one of the 100-plus exhibitors from that event featured in the Tourism Linkages Network’s Christmas in July vendors’ catalogue,” Mrs. Allen says.

Other stakeholders with whom the Allens have forged collaborations include the Social Development Commission (SDC), under the agency’s Local Economic Development Support Programme (LEDSP); the St. Thomas Bee Farmers’ Cooperative; the Ujima Natural Growers Group; and the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo).

Mrs. Allen points out that Irie Lyfe is part of the TPDCo’s Morant Bay Tourism Cluster, which is a concentration of entities that are interconnected in tourism activities, with the aim of generating comparative and competitive advantages.

She is encouraging other fledgling or prospective entrepreneurs to take a risk and pursue the realisation of their ideas and dreams.

“There are things that we create in Jamaica that cannot be created anywhere else. By having faith in who we are, we can command a lot more interest from people coming here to buy Jamaican,” Mrs. Allen says.

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