We chat to Vicky Henley, founder of organic coconut product business, The Coconut Company. Vicky talks about being inspired by living in Asia for 10 years and seeing the amazing variety of healthy coconut products out there!
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
I started The Coconut Company (UK) Ltd in Jan 2015, with my business partner Mike Pilgrim. Our company produces a wide variety of organic coconut products including oils, sugar, flour, vinegar, sauces, nectar and milk. We are now expanding globally and will be launching a few innovative products including snacks and coconut drinks later this year.
We aim to produce good quality products, that have undergone minimal processing. We know our suppliers well and work with small, but established coconut farmers in The Philippines and Sri Lanka. Our products are vegan and organic certified and we only work with producers that share the same vision.
What time does your day usually start and end?
I have tried to structure this business around my young family, as I really wanted a role that was flexible. My day starts at 7am with getting children ready for school. I am in the office at 9am and try to catch the end of the day in Asia, so I can speak to suppliers if necessary. I finish by 5pm, but I am often on email late into the day. It becomes addictive!
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
My favourite part is the unpredictability of the day. You never know who may pop into the office or who will email. We are getting emails from around the world and it’s exciting to see where the brand is taking us.
My least favourite part is running exhibitions and shows – they are exhausting!
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
Firstly, it was my love of good food and healthy eating. I also wanted to have the flexibility around work, so I could achieve a better work/life balance. Lastly, I wanted to be working in a fast paced environment and the food sector certainly achieves that. There is a huge amount of innovation coming from this sector and the wellness industry is changing the way we eat for good.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
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 for serious foodies, who wanted a healthy alternative.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
The current instability of the pound poses lots of issues for small businesses who import goods from abroad. Your raw material costs fluctuate, but you are unable to move your RRPs up or down in the same way but it also presents an opportunity to export as our products are cheaper to overseas buyers due to the weak pound. The unknown consequences of Brexit are also a worrying factor, but who knows, maybe it will open up greater opportunities.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
Yes, we made a few mistakes in the early days of the business, but this was all part of the learning process. 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’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
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.
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing. We would certainly change a few things and our initial launch was hampered by trying to do everything ourselves. We’ve now learnt to outsource most activities and to keep the in-house team lean.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
Spending time with my family and cooking for them (using our coconut products when I can of course)!
Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
Sometimes! I often work late into the evening and find it hard to switch off, but it’s important to take time out. I often get my best ideas when I’m relaxing. Taking time out allows you to reflect upon your decisions and plan for the future.