Business Leader recently spoke to Cecily Mills, the founder of Coconuts Organic (CO), a small food producer in Cornwall about why she feels that the D2C (direct to consumer) route is a vitally important one for a growing brand such as hers, especially in the current environment.
Can you give me an overview of the company?
I started CO in 2015 from my kitchen table in Cornwall. A year before, in 2014 I had changed my diet to plant-based as I was looking for more energy from food to deal with long days commuting from Brighton to London for a demanding job in retail.
I started to make a chocolate coconut ice cream for myself, and started to give it to others. The feedback I was getting was really positive, and over the course of that year, the idea was brewing in my mind. I decided to take the plunge in early 2015 by leaving my career in London, and moving back to my childhood home of Cornwall to start making ice cream for a living.
What separates your products from the competition?
It has been nothing less than an obsession to get the most perfect taste and texture to our ice cream using only organic and vegan ingredients. We don’t use any powders or fillers that often give vegan ice cream its chalky texture. Instead, we have developed a recipe that is as close to dairy ice cream as we possibly can be only with vegan ingredients.
In addition to this, the fact that we are headquartered and manufactured in Cornwall allows us to tap into our county’s great heritage and renown expertise in ice cream. What other place in the UK has such a fabulous association of everyone favourite seaside treat?!
How has the company had to adapt its offerings since the lockdown?
We have made a massive leap in our proposition these last few weeks, by developing, for the first time ever, a D2C offer. This will be launching in June and I am really excited about it.
It presents the greatest opportunity for us to start building direct relationships with our customers which I’m particularly excited about. The shift to online shopping is irrefutable – and the last few weeks of lockdown as accelerated this momentum.
By developing a reliable and cost-effective way to send ice cream by post, we have suddenly opened up a whole new side to the business that, to be honest, wasn’t really in our sights much pre-COVID. I had a few times over the years looked into D2C but each time my projects had come to the same conclusion – its too expensive to send ice cream in the post or, it’s too unreliable.
It is amazing how ones thinking and approach can change when circumstances require it.
Do you feel that there has been a massive change within the wider food and drink retail sector due to COVD-19?
Absolutely. All of us in this sector have been forced to take a look at our businesses and how, to all intents and purposes, we can COVID-proof them. Food and drink is more often than not, associated with bringing people together – the very antithesis of what we are now being required to do by the government.
It’s extremely tough for most in this sector right now. Businesses are being forced to pivot and think creatively in how they sell their products and get them to their customers in order to weather this storm.
Do you believe that having vegan-friendly and healthy alternatives is the future of the industry?
Undoubtedly. The UN reported last summer that eating a more plant-based diet will help to reduce carbon emissions. We’ve just had the hottest MAY ever, the planet is still warming and we need to act. COVID has highlighted the need for people to stay a healthy weight, as our very own PM has made a big deal of.
Health of the individual and the planet are serious issues and both need action. The food industry has so much power to be able to force positive change in these areas, and vegan food and natural foods are a way that we can do this.
What future trends do you see within your market?
Vegan and low cal is where I see the most activity and originality in the ice cream sector. In terms of product launches, that is where it is at. This, coupled with unique and irresistible flavour combinations, which will always be key for ice cream!
What does the future hold for the business?
We have got so much exciting stuff in the pipeline, none of which I can actually reveal yet. But suffice to say that when we lunch these things they will have never been seen before in our category. In addition to this, online is going to be a key focus for us, and how we can build that side of our business. I’m extremely excited about the rest of the year and beyond for Coconuts Organic.