Why Coconuts Are Good Business

Making good things out of coconut makes business sense


Picture / Supplied

The much-lauded coconut is now enjoying a reputation as one of nature’s superfoods. Nutritionist Nellie Pigot advises that coconuts are high in lauric acid (making them excellent for skin health) with antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. They’re a source of medium chain fatty acids which are used for energy rather than stored as fat. Coconuts also offer a delicious alternative to dairy and can often be found in smoothies, yogurt, chia puddings and raw cakes and creams. We talk to people who have made coconuts their business:

JAMES CROW AND TOMMY HOLDEN, Little Island
Tommy and James’ plans to set up an ice-block business from a small borrowed kitchen in Pt Chevalier nearly hit the skids when they discovered they couldn’t use dairy products. “We were only allowed to use things that were low-risk,” explains James of their early entrepreneurial beginnings. The alternative came naturally. “We went to the local supermarket and bought some coconut cream and chocolate and made the first Nice Block”. Success was immediate and the boys quickly realised they’d unwittingly tapped into a burgeoning dairy-free market. Struggling with the hugely seasonal nature of ice-blocks they diversified into icecream. And once that was established, they diversified again, launching Little Island coconut drinking milk. It’s now available through New World and Pak N Save nationwide and, after initially using coconut cream from Thailand and Indonesia, the team has recently signed a deal that will see the establishment of a large processing plant in Samoa providing access to organic, Fairtrade coconuts. “The first can we bought by accident was from Samoa, and it was the best,” explains James, “but up until now it’s been impossible to guarantee a regular source from there”. Little Island is proud of the part the business is playing for local industry in Samoa; as it grows, so will the fortunes of local farmers. “For the first time in recent years, people are planting palms. Up until now they’ve been encouraged to clear them.”

SEB WALTER AND LATESHA RANDALL, Raglan Coconut Yoghurt
Collaborations with local culinary icons such as The Caker and Giapo icecream have seen Raglan Coconut Yoghurt establish a quick and rabid fan-base in Auckland. But nationwide domination was never the plan for this business, which came about very accidentally. “We suspected Seb was allergic to dairy,” explains Latesha. “And we ate a lot of yoghurt. So we worked to make a yummy alternative.” The eventual formula for this “yummy alternative” was simply coconut cream, probiotics and a touch of their own homegrown honey, left to ferment for 12 hours and then sealed. Seb’s sniffles subsided, and one day when Latesha advertised a couple of spare jars on the Raglan community Facebook page they were inundated with orders. Things snowballed from there and they now run the yoghurt business alongside their existing digital agency, Latesha’s work as a writer (she writes for Idealog and Good magazine and has published her second children’s book). They have also built a yurt in their garden for “fun. And possibly yoga.” The couple met at an Art of Happiness seminar in Auckland four years ago. “We both seemed fairly happy,” explains Seb, “so we thought we should be happy together”. The couple’s free-spirited ways are underwritten with some serious business savvy — Raglan Coconut Yoghurt is now sold in 150 stores nationwide.

FRANCESCA BOWDEN AND PIP BAGLEY, Cocoloco
“We were on holiday in Thailand together, knocking back coconuts and feeling amazing,” explains Francesca Bowden laughing, reminiscing about how she and her now business partner Pip Bagley came to start Cocoloco, their fresh young coconut delivery service. Post-Thailand the friends moved to Sydney where they noticed “everyone was drinking them — on the bus, on the beach. Especially around Bondi. If people were drinking coconut water it was fresh and raw. Not out of a packet.” The girls eventually settled back in Auckland where their thirst for coconuts was hard to satiate. So they got to work; chatting to key retailers (Ripe, L’Oeuf and Woodwork were their first) and then locking in a supplier in Thailand where it had all begun. Cocoloco now deliver boxes of fresh young coconuts to customers the length of the country, and cafes and select health food stores in the North Island. The effervescent friends are a fixture on the summer festival circuit, and have collaborated with brands from Stolen Rum to Nike. Francesca (siblings are Liam from Deadly Ponies and Dominic from a TV near you) handles the social media and PR side while Pip leads the events (they cite Laneways and Splore as highlights of summer). Education continues to be a big focus for the friends, who have had customers complain that a whole coconut doesn’t fit in the drink holder of their car. “Coconut water shouldn’t be on a supermarket aisle,” insists Francesca. “It should be on a tree ... or inside a coconut.”

ANITA KYLE, The Kefir Company
Shortly after Anita’s 2-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, integrative paediatrician Dr Leila Masson recommended young coconut water kefir to help improve his gut flora. Anita and her husband Terry started cracking coconuts in their spare time and the change in his behaviour was marked. “He started sleeping through the night, temper tantrums became less frequent and projectile vomiting ceased,” remembers Anita. Their naturopath, awed at the results, asked them to make supplies for other patients, word spread and before too long Anita sold her fashion manufacturing company in order to produce coconut kefir full time. They now crack 1000 coconuts a week to keep up with demand. And her client base these days is extremely diverse.

“Mood swings, menstrual problems, pre-conception health, irritable bowl, constipation, allergies and eczema…” Anita rattles off a litany of ailments her coconut kefir is said to help with. “It’s a two-fold tonic really,” she explains. “It’s liquid, living probiotics [from the kefir] but with the mineral profile of coconut water.” In order to maintain that profile the water must be raw and unpasteurised. The Kefir Company source their coconuts from the Pacific Islands where it can take as little as five days for a coconut to go from tree to mouth. “We couldn’t do it from a tetra pak,” Anita notes. “We had to get cracking!"

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