Since the mid 1990s when Antoine and Lily Bavay anchored in English Harbour from Brittany on a compact catamaran, and decided to stay. While making a living by chartering their boat, the Bavays began to make yogurt and goat’s cheese for their own use. As word spread in English Harbour that a French couple where making excellent quality yogurt, they found they were making bigger and bigger batches every week to satisfy demand.
The chef at Blue Waters Hotel placed an order, and soon after Sandals Resort began to show an interest. Antoine realized that if they wanted to seize this opportunity they would have to find production space ashore. They found a small house in Piccadilly, not far from Falmouth, and considered selling the catamaran to finance the purchase of production equipment. But the boat belonged to their friend Philippe Dupuis, who was still in Brittany. So Philippe and his wife Marisse came to Antigua to see what all the fuss was about. When Philippe Dupuis was a young man he was travelling in North Africa when one day he strolled into a village and saw a sign on an old building that read “Yao Dupuis”. Enchanted by the strange name coupled with his own, he promised himself that he would name his boat “Yao”. So here were the four friends putting the “Yao” up for sale, and Philippe suggested that the name for the yogurt should be Yao too.
By the year 2000 the company, Antigua Dairy Industries, was established and the new production equipment was installed in 450 sq. ft. of crowded but highly organized space in Piccadilly. Space was so limited that they sat on overturned buckets to scrub down their equipment each evening. In spite of this constraint, they soon added ice cream to their product line, using the same equipment and some of the same milk-based ingredients. They hired their first local employee, a driver to make deliveries,and he is still with the company. It now has 15 knowledgeable and productive employees, including well-trained supervisors Desiree Thomas for yogurt and Michael Joseph for ice cream. When their friends the Dupuis went back to France, Antoine found a local investor and their new partner is content to let them run the business as they see fit.Sales of Yao yogurt have grown approximately 20% each year since the early days, except for an almost universal downturn in 2007. The Bavays offer many flavours of yogurt as well as their very first product, plain yogurt, and they have recently introduced a rich, extra-creamy Greek yogurt, which is made by draining the whey from the regular product. They also make yogurt drinks, including a nutritious and healthy Kefir
Ice Cream sales are a growing market and the Bavays keep experimenting with new flavours, and have introduced wonderful combinations like Cream and Cookies, Coffee Beans, and Cavalier Rum and Raisin. Their newest offerings are Cherry Vanilla, Strawberry Cheesecake and Maple Walnut.They also produce zingy fruit sorbets made with tropical fruit such as mango, pineapple and passion fruit. And they will make up special orders for weddings and large parties, based on customers’ requests. They will even customize labels, which they print on-site, and do so for several of the international yachts that return every winter to English Harbour.
The Leander, for instance, orders its yogurt with its own Leander label. And for airline customers like British Airways, they order preprinted packaging designed for the airline. Good hygiene is an essential part of any food production facility, and Antigua Dairy is no exception. Samples of every product are sent to the Government laboratory at Dunbars each month for testing, and the site is inspected regularly. The production staff wear clean overalls and hairnets, and clean hands are an absolute requirement of the daily production routine. Antigua Dairy eventually outgrew their Piccadilly site, and in July 2014 they moved to a relatively spacious (4 times larger) building in an industrial park on Factory Road. Here the company has a compact business office, a large production room, a warm room for fermenting yogurt, cold rooms for storing both yogurt and ice cream, and warehouse space at the back for imported pre-packaged gourmet products such as cheese, cured meats and fish, and dried fruit and nuts that they have introduced to grow their product line. After years of experimentation with ingredients for their yogurt and ice cream products, they import a rich, high quality powdered milk from Ireland, fruit jams and preserves from Europe and India,and various sugars, gels and chocolate from the best sources they can find. They encourage walk-in sales, and offer friendly and very informal service to everyone who drops by.
Yao products are sold to supermarkets in a variety of containers, to hotels and restaurants in individual and bulk containers, and to yachts and other catering establishments in containers of their choosing. Antoine and Lily Bavay are proud of their “Made in Antigua” products, and of their record as one of only a handful of local companies that can make this claim. They have begun to export their Yao products to other islands, beginning with the Grenadines in 2015, with planned shipments to Tortola in 2016. They cannot resist developing new products, and hope to introduce their locally brewed beer, which they have dubbed “Bone Idle Blond Ale”, by the end of 2015. The search for new, compatible products continues with no end in sight, because the Bavays have faith in their own abilities, and in their staff. View the complete product line on their website, www.yaoantigua.com.