This is a hot and spicy tale
of a cottage industry
known world wide.
In 1978, a small jerk facility with four employees opened as a community project to help boost the economy around Walkerswood, a hamlet located in the mountains above the rich resorts of Ocho Rios.
It was an attempt to stem the flow of young people who were leaving for far more lucrative work on the North Coast and other urban areas. A government-supplied food technologist was brought in to help develop a spicy jerk seasoning, the traditional Jamaican marinade for barbecued meats and fish.
Once the operation was up and running, it intended to sell jerk pork to area restaurants and bars and let it go at that. But something unexpected happened. Customers couldn't get enough of the pork's pungent but flavorful jerk seasoning.
"People asked us if we'd ever thought of bottling it," says Denyse Perkins, a co-manager and one of the founders of Walkerswood Caribbean Foods. "So we did, which made us the first to put jerk in a bottle."
Before long, Walkerswood's jerk seasoning gained island-wide popularity. In 1985, 100 cases of it were exported to test its spicy appeal overseas. Initially available only in gifts shops, the jerk seasoning was a hit with Jamaicans living abroad and tourists who craved good Jamaican jerk back home.
Word about Walkerswood spread and the rest, as they say, is history. The Walkerswood brand became synonymous with Jamaican jerk seasoning. Today, Walkerswood has 64 workers who produce a line of 15 seasonings, sauces, spices, condiments and canned vegetables.
And although Perkins says Walkerswood Caribbean Foods still considers itself as only a cottage industry, the company did more than US$2.5 million in business during a recent year.
"The success has been fabulous," admits Perkins, "but sometimes I wonder if we know what we've taken on."
Although the fame of Walkerswood has spread internationally, Perkins says that "It's only recently that some of our workers realize what they have accomplished as they travel or some family member writes them."