London-based company Cocofina, used exporting advice from the Department for International Trade to help their company flourish overseas. Owner Jacob Thundil tells us about how his business began its exporting journey by contacting a trade advisor and by attending international trade shows.
“We are the coconut experts, producing 32 products and exporting to 28 countries. I was born in a place called Kerala, which in Sanskrit literally means the land of the coconut trees.
Fifteen-years-ago I quit the safety of a job to start Cocofina, way before coconuts were trendy. You might think I was a visionary, but I was just following my passion. We produce staples like coconut oil and coconut water, but also produce more specialist products like a soya sauce alternative, palm oil and refined sugar free chocolate and hazelnut spread. All our products are certified organic and we are working hard to minimise the environmental impact.
We have a shop and office in London, a warehouse facility in Kent and production facilities in the Midlands and Wales. There are six of us and we provide employment to more people indirectly in production and logistics.
I wanted Cocofina to be enjoyed by the rest of the world and I first heard about exporting support when I contacted DIT to join a trade show to Paris.
It seems daunting to export for the first time, but my trade advisor was someone who had experience setting up a food business from scratch, so she understood the challenges associated with export. So for me, it seemed like common sense to talk to someone who had done it before.
My initial approach was unstructured, however, my trade advisor provided me with some much-needed structure and focus to utilise the resources we have in the best way possible. As we were growing we were being approached by wholesalers from several countries.
We ran into some problems with just taking on wholesalers who were contacting us, as some of them did not represent us in the way we wanted Cocofina represented.
Through DIT we have used the Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS), which is a paid research service provided by the individual trade desks in country.
We received help creating an exporting plan and we have been on successful trade missions to countries like Turkey and Spain.
We have also been to international trade shows in Paris, Sweden, Dubai and Japan and I have attended and presented at masterclasses and training sessions. I believe I am one of the companies that have utilised most of the types of support offered by DIT.
In the early years of the business, winter months were quieter as we were only selling in the UK. Now, 50 per cent of our sales are from exports – if you export, the sun is shining somewhere all the time. Our sales have more than tripled since we first started working with DIT.
To businesses thinking about exporting and getting support from DIT, I would say what have you got to lose? Give it a go. Wouldn’t it be great to choose the leads you want to follow up rather than just the ones that come to you? There is no compulsion to sell to all of the potential customers, you need to do what is right for your brand.”
The Cocofina team outside their London shop.