Jacob Thundil is a London based entrepreneur born in the Indian state of Kerala “The land of coconuts”. After his father’s passing at the age of 17, he took over and ran the family business while pursuing a mechanical engineering degree and working in several blue-chip companies before founding Cocofina in 2004.
Cocofina, the ‘Coconut Experts’ boast an innovative range of 32 coconut-based products, including their top selling coconut water, many of which are Great Taste Award winning, that are vegan and vegetarian friendly and UK Soil Association certified. Now sold throughout the UK and in 28 countries worldwide, the organic evolution of the brand from its beginnings in Kerala to recently securing investment on the popular UK BBC TV series Dragons Den is a truly inspirational journey. Fruit Juice Focus reports on the Cocofina story and the message it gives to others just starting out, or looking to develop their more established brands.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Jacob explained how taking over and running a business from such a young age forged the basis of his future success: “My dad was into cashew nut products and I took over the business and ran it while doing my engineering degree. Food I think is also a science when you’re producing it to scale and the engineering helped me in a big way to understand the specifications of the raw materials and eventually produce our pure coconut water. How do you get purity? How do you conserve the quality of the water and to add to it?” “Kerala helped me a lot”, added Jacob, “because coconut is like wine as it’s affected by taste, terrain, climate and also the species of the nut. When you’re looking at all of those factors, it helped me because I grew up with it”
An innovative approach was evident in the brands’ early life when Jacob rediscovered coconut water in 2004 on a beach in Brazil. In that same year Cocofina became the first to bottle it in its purest form and launch throughout Europe. Jacob states, ‘as a pioneering brand in the coconut space in Europe, we had the luxury of setting the bar high. I spent all of 2004 sampling across food festivals such as Taste of London in Regents Park and travelling around Asia and South America to choose the best species of coconuts suitable for the European palette. Positive feedback from customers makes all of this research all the more worthwhile’.
The journey began with a vision to create an innovative range of products that would not only appeal to health and lifestyle conscious consumers but also to those that have food intolerances. The current range boasts products such as a superior Coconut Nectar with a low GI of 38, a Coconut Amino which is a soy sauce alternative, sustainably produced Coconut Vinegars infused with Chili and Nutmeg and a range of Free-From cooking and baking products such as Coconut Flour, Sugar, Chips and Desiccated Coconut.
Premium quality, honesty and healthy are core brand values as well as sustainably producing products utilising every part of the coconut palm. Cocofina also supports the charity Action Against Hunger (ACF) by donating to help fight child hunger around the world. Ethically responsible and completely transparent, the brand is continuously evolving and achieving success.
Since receiving offers from all five Dragons from the Dragon’s Den, the long running UK BBC TV programme where entrepreneurs pitch for investment from the Dragons (five venture capitalists willing to invest their own money in exchange for equity) they are now working with two Dragons – Sarah Willingham and Nick Jenkins. Their expertise is already being imparted and they have both facilitated introductions at boardroom level with some key players.
Since pitching in the Den, Cocofina have secured listings within all 60 stores of UK premier lifestyle retailer Lakeland and the UK health products retailer Holland and Barrett have expanded their Cocofina range to 20 products. Orders have significantly increased as have the number of social media followers which are continuously rising, with awareness for the brand at an all-time high.
This exposure has also instigated a number of approaches from wealthy investors and a well-known financial institution with offers ranging from £150K to £1M tabled.
With evidence of a shift in consumer attitude towards coconut products over recent years, Cocofina have come through this period, grown at a fast rate year on year, expanded into new territories and markets and received significant credit from the UK organic industry for cementing themselves as a trusted and go-to brand.
Jacob states ‘I am flattered with the offers and the trust that the public have placed on us. I was not in the den for the money and very happy with the experience that the new investors have brought to the table to take our dreams to the next level’.
The next stage of brand evolution is already underway. Firstly a competition was won with SAGE to create a pop-up-shop at Piccadilly Circus tube station in London for one week where Cocofina were seen by a potential 800,000 passers-by across the seven days. Many recognised the brand from being on television and immediately associated with it and in excess of 5,000 samples were given out.
Jacob has since been invited to speak at a number of export focused events; the Santander Red Box event held at Spitalfields Market in London in September last year, that also focused on labelling, a UK Department of International Trade (DIT) Kickstart Export conference with over 400 businesses in attendance which has led to a case study, an ‘Entrepreneur Masterclass’ for students at a London school, who are taking part in the prestigious Tycoon in Schools initiative in association with the Peter Jones Enterprise Award. The Cocofina journey will also be an example case study across every business course at the school.
The Soil Association website currently features Cocofina within the ‘Meet our Licensees’ section, which spotlights the brands’ efforts in helping to shape the future of organic. Cocofina will be showcased as an organic export case study by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and HSBC has selected Cocofina as a chosen best brand to include in their marketing and advertising campaigns for 2017. Jacob appeared as a guest speaker at the 2016 Health Ingredients Europe event in Frankfurt which is the leading global event for food and beverage innovation.
The future is certainly brighter than ever before, as a new journey begins on the road to establishing Cocofina as a global super brand.