'If you believe in your idea, others will too': The growth story of The Coconut Company

'If you believe in your idea, others will too': The growth story of The Coconut Company
Victoria Henley
Victoria HenleyThe Coconut Company (UK) Ltd

Posted: Thu 24th Feb 2022

Living in Singapore and noticing the locals' love of coconut inspired Vicky Henley to launch The Coconut Company on her return to the UK.

The business provides a range of coconut products including coconut snacks, coconut oils, coconut sugar and coconut flour. Vicky has sold her products on Amazon's online store for seven years.

Vicky shares her story and explains how the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme has boosted her entrepreneurial knowledge.

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

How did you come up with your business idea?

"I lived in Singapore for 10 years and saw how much of the coconut was used in the region. I thought the UK would love many of the products and recipes I found on my travels. Asian cultures traditionally use quite a bit of coconut in their dishes and have a much better selection of coconut-based products than the UK did back then. For example, they use it in so many different ways, such as powdered coconut milk, coconut snacks and sugar.

"Filipino and Sri Lankan cuisine also make use of the coconut sap, to create vinegars, sauces and syrups. The coconut sap comes from the coconut flower, as opposed to the nut. These products looked very innovative to me and were particularly tasty. I thought they would work well back in the UK market for people like me who love good food and wanted to try different flavours.

"I teamed up with my business partner, Mike Pilgrim, who knew The Philippines well. He found our first factory, which produces an extremely tasty range of sauces, vinegars and sweet syrups.

“We met with them and placed a trial order of bulk product to ship to the UK. It would take around two months to reach the UK and in that time, I had to find a co-packer to pack our goods into retail bottles!

What start-up challenges have you faced?

“I was very new to the food industry when I started this business and I knew little about finding a manufacturer.

“Our first run of retail products didn’t look good and we had to relabel everything! Fortunately, we had a very understanding and patient co-packer, who was willing to learn with us and could see our potential. We still work with them today.

“I am part of a great Facebook group called 'The Food Hub'. I would highly recommend any new food business entrepreneur to join and read the questions and answers posed every hour – it can be a great source of inspiration and knowledge.

"Raising funds to grow is tough and can take up a lot of your time. We have grown organically and managed to self-fund the business without bank or external investor funds so far, but that can’t last forever if you have ambitious plans or experience exponential growth. I would recommend finding a seasoned angel investor in your industry and asking their advice.

"Knowing where to spend your marketing money can also be a challenge, but you learn along the way and mistakes are rarely repeated if they cost you dearly!"

Which part of the Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme has inspired you the most?

"The content writing and social media videos provide great ideas for us to expand our current content and explore other topics. In the beginning we thought we needed to write about coconuts solely and concentrate on specific coconut-related topics, but soon realised we needed to expand our reach.

"Modules such as 'Brand registry: How to register your brand' were very useful to registering our brand with Amazon and allowed to gain more control over our range. We developed our A+ content pages after reading watching these videos and enhanced our store images and text.

"The video on multi-channel fulfilment is a great short overview of how to automate online sales and handle customer orders as your business grows."

Why did you decide to start selling on Amazon?

"Amazon offers us an easy way to reach millions of potential clients. Its mobile app is the best available with regards to customer service and ease of use, so for me, it's a no-brainer to sell on the store.

"The Amazon Seller Central platform is easy to use and offers a whole host of tools to manage your brand and products.

"As long as you limit your re-sellers, you have good control over your range. We've been delighted with the growth we've experienced with Amazon over the last seven years and know we have the potential to keep growing on this platform.

What's your strategy for selling on Amazon online store and what tips would you offer other business owners?

"We offer a lot of bundled products, which works well for us. We also run lighting deals and keep a close eye on pricing. Regular advertising on Amazon is key to growth.

"We also only work with Fulfilment by Amazon, as we believe it provides the best customer experience.

"As I mentioned earlier, control your re-sellers on Amazon as best you can. If you have too many re-sellers, you can lose control of editing your own range and pricing."

How did you convince physical retailers like Planet Organic and Whole Foods to stock your products?

"We first pitched to Planet Organic and Wholefoods in 2016. The health food market was a different place back then. There is certainly more competition now and getting listed by the larger retailers is tough. You need to be persistent and keep the same message and focus. Getting buyers' attention is hard!"

What are your plans for the future of your business?

"We'd like to expand into non-food products, using sustainable coir materials. Coir is the natural fibre extracted from the outer husk of the coconut. Coir is plentiful and 100% biodegradable and when processed correctly we believe can replace non-biodegradable products in many circumstances.

"We are also looking at dairy-free products with a coconut base for food service.

"We see a bright future in 2022 with lots of possibility."

How has COVID-19 impacted on your business?

"We've been lucky, as COVID-19 didn’t hit us too hard. Food sales for certain items soared during the height of lockdown, as people cooked at home and tried new dishes. Sales in our bricks and mortar stores have declined as footfall reduced on the high streets, but online sales continue to grow year on year.

"We've also seen a real boost in enquiries and sales for our bulk produce. This drove us to gain BRC accreditation, which demonstrates our strong commitment to quality, food safety and traceability."

Which other entrepreneur inspires you?

"Pippa Murray from Pip & Nut has done a fabulous job of running a fast-paced growing business in the nut butter sector. There have been many competitors along the way, but these guys have smashed it."

What are your top tips for business success?

"If you believe in your idea, others will too - keep going! It's not always easy and you may take knock backs, but ultimately, you are in the driving seat and control what happens.

"Your product range will need constant innovation and tweaks. Some items may not work well, others may take you by surprise and boom! It's a constant state of flux, but success does not come overnight for most companies, and you'll need to be in for the long haul to make it work. Therefore, I believe it's essential to love what you do.

"Get an accounting system and good bookkeeper as soon as possible to remove administrative stress, so you can concentrate on your products.

"Be innovative and go where you see demand. Be open to new channels, such as private label or exporting, but make sure you do some homework beforehand."

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Victoria Henley
Victoria HenleyThe Coconut Company (UK) Ltd
I own and run The Coconut Company in the UK. We produce a range of tasty and innovate coconut foods made from coconut sap and the coconut fruit. We ship our goods across the world and are proudly plant based. We've been creating and supplying coconuts since 2015.

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