I have a restaurant startup in the Caribbean and I'd like to ship some frozen goods there. Believe it or not food is much cheaper here in the U.S (a big surprise to me). I especially want to ship shrimp. Any ideas on what services to use? Also, I have no idea where to buy these goods in bulk, but I'm hoping a little google search can help with that. Thank you.
The Caribbean is a geographic region, but the answers you need will depend on your actual location. There are many different financial, legal and political environments - as I know having lived in the Caribbean (in one of the British Dependent Territories) and done business in 12 of the islands as well as some other countries with a Caribbean shoreline.
Still, I think there are some general points.
First, it shouldn't be a surprise to you that the most things cost less in the US. Economies of scale and scope and highly developed competitive market tell you to expect that. And some Caribbean governments balance the books by leaning hard on import duties and other indirect forms of taxation.
Second, importing perishable goods has some high risk attached. A load of frozen shrimp sitting thawing on the dock under a hot sun, bought and paid for but not yet allowed through to you, is a high stress situation.
So in your situation, I would start by looking at how you can engage with your current and potential new local suppliers to get the products you need. Their core competence is sourcing, importing and distribution, yours is creating great eating experiences!
If your issue is mainly one of choice - you need access to shrimp with quality/consistency that's not presently available - then that should be a reasonably easy supplier conversation.
If it really is all about cost, then you have as much of a selling job as a buying one. You need to show why it's worth your suppliers giving you better pricing - most likely because you have seen an opportunity that will translate into more and bigger orders for them.
However, maybe the real issue here is that the big picture opportunity you see depends on you becoming a direct importer. In that case, start building your experience by importing some non-perishable goods, preferably things which simply aren't available locally so that you don't upset the applecart.
As and when you find you need to import frozen goods, it really is very easy to find bulk suppliers. They, after all, want you to find them. Google is your friend!
I have to respectfully disagree here with Jeremy.
Although local suppliers and the "internal transit" of your frozen goods in the destination island is important, the KEY here is customs and the other border agencies. It is not unusual for goods to stay at Caribbean ports for days just because of small technicalities, so you wanna make sure it doesn't happen to yours.
Do you have any personal contacts at customs? Do you know who carries out the sanitary and phytosanitary inspections at the port? You will probably need a quality control company like Bureau Veritas or others to provide quality certificates. Although a bit pricey, these certifications usually speed up processes in the destination port, but again, it all depends on the rules and regulations of the country. In some Caribbean countries, these inspections are actually carried out by private sector companies.
I would start with a top notch logistics provider at the beginning, maybe Maersk, to take care of the transit between the US and the Caribbean. They will do a pretty good job of keeping your goods at the right temperature in a reefer container whether you ship a whole load or an LTL (less than a truck load). The reason is simple: you can't risk jeopardizing the quality of your products at the very beginning. Remember that you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Second, don't try to do the paper work yourself at least at the beginning. Hire a good reputable customs broker, preferably with experience handling imports of frozen good. This is no easy task but it is amazing what a few telephone calls can produce.
And third, find a local distributor. This shouldn't be very hard, although the distribution industry in the Caribbean is usually very fragmented and there are lots of boom and bust providers of such services.
This is all based on the assumption that it will indeed be cheaper to buy the shrimp in the USA and ship it to your destination, of course.
Good luck in your adventure.