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CrazyFruits » WORLD NEWS AND SPORTS FROM SKY » Page develops pepper spray for Jamaica ... But faces roadblocks to market

Page develops pepper spray for Jamaica ... But faces roadblocks to market

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Yaneek Page

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Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
Even business experts with intimate knowledge of the system meet up on roadblocks. Yaneek Page, who dispenses advice to entrepreneurs on television, in print and through her own firm, Future Services International, has been trying for more than four years to commercialise a pepper spray made from local Scotch bonnet, which she developed as a crime-fighting tool.
Page says she has invested nearly $ 1 million into the creation of the product. She worked with the Scientific Research Council (SRC) on its formulation, then got an outside firm to develop a prototype, but cannot seem to overcome the legal hurdles.
There is, she said, inconsistency in the legislation on the product - for which safety would be a major issue - and government agencies are unwilling to assist.
Inspired to innovate by the acts of violence on women and the murder of a security guard in her employ, Page engaged the services of the SRC in 2009 to develop the formulations for the pepper spray but "hit a brick wall" when she tried to ascertain whether the product could legally be sold locally.
"A few years ago our company hosted a workshop on self-defence for women, and a police officer who came said that we should all try to get pepper sprays, but when we tried to get it, we found that it wasn't readily available locally so I had the idea to create pepper spray from Scotch bonnet pepper," Page told Sunday Business.
Concerns over legality
But after paying the SRC $120,000 to create the formulation, Future Services was forced to seek a declaration from the courts on the legality of the product, as the SRC "refused to move forward because they were concerned they were developing an illegal product", Page said.
Pepper spray is not on the list of banned substances, so Page wrote to the attorney general asking for clarification. She got no response.
She then wrote to the Customs Department.
"But none of the agencies would give us any information that would clarify the situation so the SRC could continue its work," she said.
"No government agency was willing to assist us. We had our lawyers write to them for clarification and from every direction we were just stone walled."
Page then tried the Ministry of Agriculture; then the Ministry of Health - and still got nowhere.
"We ended up seeking a declaration from the court which ruled two years later that pepper spray is legal for personal protection, but that there needs to be greater clarity in the law because there are inconsistencies, and that the lawmakers need to review the legislation," the entrepreneur and small business expert said.
She said the court further ruled that consumers would need a licence to prove the pepper spray is intended for personal use and protection.
"It has been one of the worst experiences I have had in terms of trying to develop a product," she said.
Her frustration mounted further late last year after news broke that Trinidad & Tobago had made progress on production of pepper spray from its scorpion peppers.
Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and Trinidad-based Caribbean Industrial Research Institute have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the industrial uses of Trinidad's scorpion pepper.
"We are far advanced in the formulation of pepper spray locally; we are sitting on this technology when Trinidad is just 'exploring'," said Page. SRC completed the formulation of her product in 2012 but Page's company now has another challenge in getting the product manufactured.
She got the prototype developed by bug spray company Baygon, but now needs a company to package it for distribution. For that she is looking to China, saying no local company had the capacity to take on the co-packing of the product.
The capsaicin - which gives the peppers the burning sensation - would be extracted from the peppers, the formulations would be sent to the overseas producer, with other components to stabilise the product, said Page.
But production offshore comes with its own challenges. Future Services would need to import its own product for distribution, which comes with another legal hurdle - obtaining permits.
"So even if we find a co-packer in another country, to get it back into the country is another roadblock," she said.
Pepper spray is a controlled product under the Firearms Act and the Offences Weapons (Prohibition) Act, which means the company would need approval in the form of a No Objection Letter from the Minister of National Security.
"Because we need the clarity in the law which would specifically say that it is legal for us to import it, we are stuck," Page explained.
The entrepreneur said she spent at least $200,000 or more doing research and testing to get the product to the first run, and had spent almost $1 million overall.
The venture, she adds, would also create economic benefits for pepper farmers, because the process can accommodate rejected peppers - a highly perishable crop.
"We would not need a lot of the high-quality peppers. A lot of farmers are producing but they can't sell the peppers because the factories won't take them and they can't sell them to consumers, but we could actually use the rejected peppers to make pepper spray," Page said.
With the police force as a target market, Page said she hopes to produce 3,000 cases of pepper spray initially, of which 25 per cent would go to the police.
Future Services had approached Baygon to produce the first batch. The bug spray company wanted to bottle the spray using its own cans, but the police force rejected it, saying the product has to be easily transportable on the persons of its duty officers.
"The police were not interested in those. We paid for the first run but once we got them we realised that those could not work," she said of the Baygon batch, "and we just didn't have anybody in Jamaica who had that facility."
Future Service's other option meant making an investment of more than US$100,000 to buy equipment, but "with no clarity on the legality of the product, there is just no way we could look to recover that investment anytime soon," said Page.
"We keep saying that people need to do innovative things and I can't think of a more exciting product idea than being able to use our local Scotch bonnet peppers to create pepper spray that people could use for personal protection, and which the police force could use rather than having to import - which they are doing now. We were planning to create a product with a higher concentration for them and we just can't move forward," she said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yaneek Page writes an advisory column for The Gleaner that is published biweekly in Sunday Business.
tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com

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