Just across the Straits of Florida from the U.S.
mainland, more than 300,000 people call the Bahamas’
700-island Caribbean archipelago home; most reside near
the capital city of Nassau on New Providence. In
addition, about 1.6 million stopover tourists visit the
Bahamas each year.
The islands’ residents and tourists depend on imports
for 80 percent of their food and agricultural needs
($388 million in 2005), and most of these imports
originate in or come through the United States. In
calendar 2006, U.S. suppliers exported $184.5 million
worth of food, agricultural, and seafood products
destined for the Bahamas’ tourist industry and home
cooks as well.
Retail outlets account for about two-thirds of food
sales on the islands, while the HRI (hotel, restaurant,
and institutional) trade accounts for the remaining
third. According to Bahamian estimates, U.S. products
account for 98 percent of import sales to the HRI
HRI Big Player
The Bahamas’ total consumer food service sector was
valued at $188.4 million in 2005, 6 percent more than
2004. Hotels make up almost two-thirds of sales, while
restaurants account for just under a third, with
institutional sales filling out the remaining 3 percent
Tourist dollars make up half of the Bahamas’ gross
domestic product. Consequently, the impact of the
tourism industry on HRI volume is significant. Over 280
hotels with 15,000 rooms range from small to mega and
accommodate any style vacation. Several large hotel
resort projects are underway on New Providence, Grand
Bahamas, and Paradise islands. Smaller developments are
ongoing on the outer islands.
Most of the islands’ restaurants, around 430, are
concentrated on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands.
These businesses mostly turn to local importers to
source their imported food and beverage supplies. But
seafood, bottled beverages, and seasonal fruits and
vegetables tend to be bought from local suppliers.
These restaurants range from fast-food to upscale and
reflect a diversity of cuisines. Full-service outlets
account for 57 percent of the market (pizzerias are the
most popular); followed by fast-food chains with 33
percent; cafés and bars, 4 percent; and home delivery
and kiosks, another 6 percent. Local chains usually
specialize in Chinese and Bahamian cuisines.
e-Sources: Help Available
The Caribbean Basin ATO (Agricultural Trade
Office) invites prospective exporters to
visit its website for promotional activity
information, trade statistics, and other
reports on the retail and food service
sectors and import regulations for several
For information on trade shows and other
marketing events, go to:
Importers Familiar With U.S. Products and Businesses
Most importers are also located on the islands of
New Providence and Grand Bahama, with a handful
dominating the distribution chain. Bahamian importers
have experience with U.S. companies and extensive
knowledge of the U.S. food export system. Many order
from suppliers in South Florida that consolidate
Their preferred initial contact method is via e-mail
or telephone. If interested in a product, the company
will schedule an in-office appointment. Importers and
chefs also attend trade shows, including the Americas
Food and Beverage Show and the National Restaurant
Local importers typically serve as wholesalers
and distributors and have wide market access. Methods
and equipment are up-to-date and most carry a full line
of fresh, frozen, and dry products. A few specialize in
fresh produce, seafood, or alcoholic beverages.
Large hotels, which place high priority on
quality and reliability, import on average 40 percent of
their food and beverage needs through local importers
and 60 percent directly from U.S. suppliers. They tend
to patronize local importers most often for perishables,
due to limited dry storage and refrigerated space. Some
have offices in South Florida to expedite shipment to
the seaports of the Bahamas.
Food chains typically import directly from U.S.
buying offices, though smaller establishments may rely
on local importers. The "Out Islands" restaurants and
hotels, off the beaten path, have developed unusual
procurement methods that may skirt traditional
distribution channels, often using boats or even private
planes to secure products at a reasonable cost.
Institutional Sector Small
The institutional sector distributes to prisons,
hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and entertainment
venues, and is mostly supplied by local importers and a
wholesale club. The 20 or so island caterers buy food
products from local wholesalers and seafood from local
There is a small niche market for supplying local
banks, hospitals, and other institutions with coffee
programs. Airline caterers tend to import foods and
beverages directly from the United States.
Competition, Local and Abroad
About 20 food and beverage processors are located on
the islands, with half of them manufacturing soft drinks
and mineral water. The other half specializes in
seafood, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and sugar
products. Two companies meet most of the local demand
for fresh seafood products.
Many food products originating from around the world
are transshipped through South Florida because of
cheaper transportation costs. The Bahamas imports
substantial amounts directly from Panama, Puerto Rico,
and the Netherlands Antilles (St. Maarten).
To protect local producers, the Bahamian government
uses import licenses to limit the import of fresh foods
like whole poultry, and fresh produce when it is in
season. But there is still demand for some imports of
these products in the marketplace.
Kay Logan is an agricultural marketing specialist
with the Caribbean Basin ATO in Miami, FL. E-mail: