Tips & Tricks for Food Provisioning in the Caribbean

Rodney Bay Marina Farmer’s Market
Rodney Bay Marina Farmer’s Market

There’s no need to pack a season’s worth of food when cruising from the U.S. or Europe to winter in the Caribbean. What’s more, you can buy virtually anything and everything you need, from fresh meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables to canned foods, spices and a large variety of beverages, right in the islands. The catch? You might not find everything you need in one store, or what’s on a store shelf today might not be there tomorrow. Plus, it’s probably much pricier than you’re used to. But you won’t go hungry. Here’s a few provisioning tips and tricks.

Imports Rule
Limited agriculture (think limited land, steep hillsides, scant water in some places and no economies of scale) and lots of people (just over 44 million locals and 29 million visitors annually), means that almost 90 percent of food sold in the Caribbean, through retail or restaurants, is imported. Said another way, the U.S. exported over $2 billion in consumer-oriented foods to the Caribbean last year, according to statistics from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, DC. These imports mainly come from South Florida on weekly container ships, although there is product imported from Europe as well. Ask locals what day the container ships arrive to the island and go to the grocery the next day, allowing time for the product to get on the shelves, to buy the freshest perishable foods.

Many Caribbean resort chefs are European. They often look homeward for specific foods and ingredients and sometimes a wholesaler will bring in enough to supply some retailers as well. These connections often to lead to other products, favorite crisps, Marmite or baked beans coming onto Caribbean store shelves as well, especially on former British islands. Some supermarkets, especially the smaller gourmet-style ones, will fly in fresh items like fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats. The tourist-driven increase in airlift to the Caribbean has made this possible. Witness daily direct flights from Paris to St. Maarten, where gourmet grocers as well as yacht provisioners often get fresh produce from the Rungis market a few times a week. Air-freight is usually more expensive than shipments by boat, therefore transport type plays a role in food prices. So does location. As a general rule, price and availability are better on larger islands like Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands than smaller out islands such as those in the Grenadines where inter-island ferries are needed to take food products to their final destination.

This said, the best way to provision is using a two prong approach. That is, from larger traditional-style supermarkets and warehouse club stores and from smaller local vendors like bakers and farmers. 

Cost-U-Less
Cost-U-Less

Traditional Supermarkets
Supermarkets, super centers and discount warehouse stores are present in the Caribbean. For example, Massy Stores, offer all the aisles typical of grocers in the U.S. and Europe, plus fresh-prepared delis, in-house bakeries and other pluses such as pharmacies. There are nearly 50 locations in Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Lucia. “Massy Stores have partnered with IGY’s Rodney Bay Marina as one of its Preferred Vendors and offers free deliveries to all yachts at the marina that spend US $500 or above,” says Shane Macauldy, RBM’s marketing, sales and events manager.

On the discount warehouse club-style side, Cost-U-Less has locations on Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Maarten, Barbados and Curacao, while PriceSmart’s locations span from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Aruba. Membership is required at Price Smart. Yet in Trinidad, Jesse James, who owns the Members Only Maxi Taxi Service in Chaguaramas, has arranged for cruisers to shop under his member card on Fridays. 

Most of these aren’t located near major marinas and anchorages. However, the price and availability factor make it reasonable to rent a taxi. 

Local Fruits & Vegetables
While agriculture is limited in the Caribbean, it is far from non-existent. In fact, interest in locally-grown and organic foods has spurred greater interest in agriculture throughout the region and expanded availability beyond each island’s traditional capital city market. For example, the farmers of We Grow Food Inc., in St. Thomas, set up a fresh market at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande Marina twice a month. In Tortola, Aragorn Dick-Read and his wife own Good Moon Farms, which supplies a number of super yachts, crewed and bareboat yachts. A simple solution is the Good Moon Farm Box, in four sizes from $40 to $100, which contains what’s being harvested that week such as greens, salads, herbs, roots and fruits. In St. Lucia, there’s the Rodney Bay Marina’s Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 pm. In Antigua, there are roadside stands with seasonal fruits, such as Clemie’s on Fig Tree Drive near Carlisle Bay, which is the place to go for Antigua’s famous black pineapple. 

Lastly, while you can Email a shopping list to yacht provisioners and supermarkets may offer delivery, online grocery shopping has yet to come to the Caribbean. What’s more, don’t try using such a service from the U.S., Europe or other overseas country. There are strict rules, especially with perishables, as to what is permissible for an individual to bring or order into an island nation. 

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.