Koko Dairy Free is a family owned company that has been farming coconuts in East Sumatra, Indonesia, since 1986 and producing delicious coconut-based products. We speak with deputy MD, David Armstrong, to get his golden top tips on building a successful business.
What inspired the launch of Koko Dairy Free?
We spotted a gap in the market for a plant-based milk alternative that tastes surprisingly like dairy milk. As a company we have 20 years experience in making coconut products so we were working with the fruit a long time before it became a major health trend. Developing a milk from something we understood and is inherently healthy was an obvious thing for us to do. Koko was born and was the first coconut-based milk alternative on the UK market. We haven’t stopped growing since.
Can you talk us through your products and what it is that makes them particularly special?
We pride ourselves on making our products as versatile and dairy-like as possible so it’s easier for people to make the switch. Whether customers are having Koko milk, yogurts or spread, they all taste similar to the dairy equivalent. All our products are also free from all of the 14 major allergens that the FSA have identified including dairy, soya, gluten and nuts and we keep them free from artificial flavourings, colours and preservatives too, only using non-GM ingredients. Finally, we don’t mix rice milk with our milks so in that sense we are the purest coconut-based alternative on the market.
We pride ourselves on making our products as versatile and dairy-like as possible so it’s easier for people to make the switch.
You have been farming coconuts since 1986 – a time when the world was a little less coconut-crazy. How did you go about convincing people – and stockists – that coconut milk needed to be on shelves and in fridges? And how have you seen attitudes change over the years?
We could see that the dairy alternatives market was growing but it was obvious to us that many of the existing alternatives had limitations. Soya, nut and oat-based milks all contain at least one of the 14 major allergens and rice milk can be quite sweet so can be harder to use in a full range of food applications. Koko Dairy Free doesn’t have these problems and once we pointed this out, along with how versatile and dairy-like it is, we got the trade’s attention.
Some carefully targeted marketing encouraged people to try it and once they did, we were able to develop a loyal fan base of consumers. Attitudes towards dairy alternatives have changed significantly over the years and the sector has moved from being largely for people with allergies and the vegan community, to a much more mainstream audience who want healthy alternatives to dairy.
Your products are now available from Ocado, Tesco, Morrisons, Holland and Barrett, Sainsburys, Waitrose… the list goes on. How did you go about establishing these relationships and how have you continued to nurture them? Any top tips for budding entrepreneurs?
In all honesty it’s quite hard, especially as buyers change regularly and as a small brand you are rarely at the top of their priority list. The key things are to develop great products that are unique and meet market needs; have some data and facts to back up why retailers need your product and demonstrate what’s in it for them; be collaborative and helpful where you can; demonstrate growth and/or value, or you will find it really hard to survive on shelf; and finally be persistent, but not pestering. Koko’s success did not happen overnight; it took months for us to get our first product listed in all the major retailers.
Koko’s success did not happen overnight; it took months for us to get our first product listed in all the major retailers.
What would your golden advice be for someone looking to launch a food or drinks brand into the health and wellbeing market?
- Be unique and be relevant to your target market. Health and wellbeing is a highly competitive category so you have to stand out and meet a need.
- Demonstrate the value that you can add, both to consumers and retailers.
- Make sure your product is good enough. Whilst perfectionism isn’t great as you may never actually get off the ground, quality does matter. You may never get another chance to launch.
- Finally, if you believe in what you are doing and there is clearly a market for your product then be persistent. Success rarely comes overnight.