JIS News

Mixing chemicals in laboratories and performing various experiments would seem dull to some, but for Opal Slater, it is the joy of creating something unique that inspires her and makes her passionate about her work.
It is this passion and creativity that she has transferred to the kitchen to create a unique Jamaican product, which is quality smoked fish using local herbs and spices.
Opal Slater, patent holder, tells JIS News that her dream for this business started as far back in 1981 when there was the shortage of locally produced food in Jamaica and “I was looking around to see in what ways I could help to alleviate some of the problems using as much local products as is possible. So, my family was my first set of guinea pigs. I used to do a lot of wine making, beer making and stout making,” she chuckles.
It was however 18 years later that the trained Chemical Technologist started Woodside Enterprise, through which the smoked fish is manufactured. “I was at one of the many crossroads of my life when I decided that being the entrepreneur in mind and spirit that I would take the plunge and I decided to speak with the Scientific Research Council (SRC) . in terms of what assistance they could give me in product development,” she explains.
She says that SRC played an integral role in getting her business started and was lucky, in that SRC usually requires an advanced sum of money before looking at business proposals, but they made an exception in her case.
“In my case, I brought in my product and we did it on a batch by batch situation, which helped me to develop my product,” she says.
Opal says that SRC currently does all the production as they have the necessary equipment, pointing out, “I am probably a little baby who is growing into a toddler and has not left the compound as yet. I am hoping that in the near future that I would be able to set up my own factory and to do my expansion accordingly”.
Explaining the production process, Opal says that she uses fillet of sea trout, which is smoked and seasoned with her own formulation of local herbs and spices. “What happens in the process is that it (the fish) is thawed, marinated in a special brine solution. For the jerk flavoured smoked fish, it is seasoned and then it is put in the smoke house and cooked to international temperatures and then I package the product,” she informs.
Opal describes the product as a ready-to-eat meal and is especially targeted at the career person and the single person, who has little time available for the preparation of food. It can also be served at cocktail parties with a dip. “It is for just about any occasion,” she says.
Meanwhile, she says that the product has been well received. “I would say that 99.5 per cent of persons who taste the product, like it because it is different and the combined flavour of hot smoke and our local spices makes it a unique product,” she says with pride. “I have carved a little niche market for myself. Once you have tasted the product, you find that it has many uses,” she says.
The product is available in hotels in Negril and Kingston but there are plans to expand offerings to supermarkets as well as to export it, once financing is available. She says that one of the challenges she faces is accessing funding, while charging that interest rates charged by lending institutions were “ridiculous”.
She says that more funds should be made available to persons who have a serious interest in developing local products. ” I think the way that Jamaica should really be heading is where we use our local grown crop and add value to it. My little sojourn into the food processing world was to try and put that belief into reality as that is the only way Jamaica is going to get out of the problems that it is in,” she says.
Adding, she says, “we have so many ethnic products here that we really need to seriously look at developing a serious manufacturing industry where we could put all of this development together and the necessary funds just have to be funded by the government and the private sector to allow us to unleash our entrepreneurship”.
She hopes that this year, the fifth year of production, she will finally be able to get the required help to expand the business and branch off on her own. ” I am hopeful that this year will be my year. I have claimed it to be mine and the Father knows that I have fought long and hard to even stay where I am now,” she states.
A single mother of a nine year-old son, Opal points out that being a mother and an entrepreneur was another challenge but she has managed to joggle both roles, but “I have learnt to prioritize and to shift focus from one to the other at the given time. It is challenging but there is no other way”.

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