Hi Vicky please tell us about the awesome creator behind The Coconut Company.
I started the UK company in Jan 2015, with my business partner Mike Pilgrim. I had been working in asset management for 15 years and although I had a decent understanding of economics and finance, I soon learnt that the skills to run a small business are very different from corporate life. I’ve learnt a lot over the last 2 years and have been thrilled to combine my love of food with a start-up. The company also gives me flexibility to work the hours I need to around my young family and allows me to have a much better work/life balance.
Coconut has incredible benefits and uses. Tell us where the inspiration came from to start a business based around this?
I spent 10 years living in Asia and could see the vast array of coconut products used in daily cooking. I felt many of these products were not in Europe. Desiccated coconut and coconut cream have been part of the Western diet for many years, so why not coconut sugar, flour, oil, vinegar or nectar? I could see the popularity in coconut water and oil already and felt there was scope to bring other coconut products to Europe.
What was the process like from concept to launch?
Stressful at times, as there is no manual, but fun! We made a few mistakes in the early days of the business, but this was all part of the learning process. I spent 6 months trying to understand the industry and scoping out the competition before we launched. It’s very important to link up with other companies and trade organisations in your sector, as you can learn a lot from them.
How did you feel when you received your first sample?
Actually, our very first production run was a disaster, so there was an element of initial disappointment! Nevertheless, we learnt a lot from our mistakes and thankfully it wasn’t much stock. We now undergo test runs for new products to minimise any production issues, so receiving samples for new products is exciting.
What is your favourite thing to do when you’re not running The Coconut Company?
Spending time with my children and cooking for them.
How did you fund the business in the beginning?
Both Mike and I funded the business from savings. As we grow, we will look towards bank lending, private investors and crowd funding for our expansion.
How did you go about ensuring that you chose the right supplier and processors?
My business partner in HK already had established links with a number of coconut producers in Asia. This was very important to kick start the business, as strong personal relationships with suppliers is key to ensure you can work through any supply issues as they arise.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first launched?
In the beginning, we tried to be a manufacturer, brand holder and sales office. In reality, this was too much and we very quickly realised that it’s better to hand over key roles to the specialists. Start by building your brand and worry about decreasing costs later, once you know your products work!
What are your top tips for marketing a food business online?
Find a niche and keep to it. It’s very tempting in the early days to run after business opportunities that are not your strength, or area of expertise. Niche businesses can be ignored by the larger multinationals, so you’ll have less competition and can shine as a smaller player. Stay true to your brand and keep the message consistent.
How would you define being an entrepreneur?
Knowing when to take risks and knowing when to pull back.
What plans do you have for The Coconut Company over the next 12 months?
In recent months, we have appointed a food technologist and we have a number of exciting developments in progress. I believe there are always ways to improve upon old favourites. We are hoping to recreate a well loved snack by using coconut flour and oil!