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One coconut, countless sustainable products

Coconut Merchant

1. No Poverty 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Overview

Coconut Merchant shows how a company can be sustainably commercialized and simultaneously support its employees. The company has collaborated with farmers from all over Asia, like Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Coconut Merchant is trying to associate with different farmers and farmers’ cooperatives and provide them with a decent wage for their services. It is an opportunity for customers to not only have a taste of quality natural products but also to share the produce of farmers in developing countries with the world. Some of the impact this company established is the ethical harvest system, where no monkeys are involved and, also, to make available the produce of farmers in developing countries with the rest of the world.

Author

Eleni Kalli

Eleni Kalli

School

University of Strathclyde

University of Strathclyde

Professor

Duduzile Rance

Duduzile Rance

Innovation

What makes this company formidable is primarily its business model; Al Shariat (CEO), quotes in the interview, “We want business to be a force for good”. To support this statement, the company constructed a model that can be profitable commercially while still helping the people from whom they source their products. They focus on building models that can sustainably help farmers through true trade partnerships, “Trade not just Aid”. Coconut Merchant was the first to introduce coconut jam into the market. The company also introduced soy sauce and vinegar made from coconut, and it made sure that vegans can enjoy vegan coconut honey.

Al Shariat spoke to a podcast called ‘’FT Start-Up Stories’’ that is on Spotify, in which he unraveled how it all started. It goes back to when he met his business partner Shan Vignes (Second director of "Coconut Merchant"), Al Shariat implied, ‘’The day I went to see him, it was a cloudy, rainy Saturday afternoon and I went into his office’’. He instantly sensed a refreshing feeling and explained the reason, ‘’I could tell we had the same values’’. On his way there, he bought every coconut product, “I had twenty products with me in this bag, he didn’t expect this to happen’’ and put all these products on the table and proposed, “Let us do a taste test’’. Coconut Merchant was not complete at that time, but Al Shariat was optimistic about the development of the company.

Shan Vignes does not work on the business every day, but he manages the sourcing of products and the finance of the company. On the sourcing side, Shan is well knowledgeable with the products, so he collaborates with the teams that Al Shariat works with in order to identify gaps in products and develop them. Shan with his team develops the samples, which Al Shariat's team taste. Then they send the samples back with recommendations for improvement and this process continues until they become ideal and ready to sell.

The mission of Coconut Merchant is uncomplicated as Al Shariat explains, “A simple mission is for the business to be a force for good”. In order to set up this mission, Coconut Merchant provisions the world with the largest range of coconut products. On the commercial aspect, by having product innovations, Coconut Merchant makes sure to stay ahead of their competition commercially while on the ideological aspect, they help farmers from around the world.

One coconut, countless sustainable products

Inspiration

Before Al Shariat became a director of Coconut Merchant, he was studying a law degree. Thereafter, he took a job at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Iran. UNDP is the UN’s global development network, which spreads across 165 countries and connects the 40 UN funds, programs, specialized agencies, and other bodies working to develop the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (UNDP, 2022). At the UNDP, Al Shariat was working on microfinance and other projects. His experience there is what inspired him to change his career path and raise a business distributing ethically sourced coconut products to the world.

As Al Shariat declares in the interview, the main purpose of the innovation is profit, “We are business, and we want to make money”. He continues by stating that the uniqueness of their products helps them cooperate with huge retailers and also get close to more farmers due to the increase demand of the coconut products.

Overall impact

For a long time now, the world has not really made any plans to eradicate global problems such as poverty, hunger, and employment (Sustainable Development Outlook, 2020). In the Sustainable Development Outlook (2020), there is no data indicating that these global problems will be untangled by 2030.

Coconut Merchant took a step further and started a business model that benefited the business itself, the society, and the environment. They managed to create a business model that is contributing towards the SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and the SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure). In 2018, Coconut Merchant became a member of the Business Call to Action (BCtA). In 2022, their membership helped them expand and support the development of twelve small scale farmer cooperatives in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

In his interview he described the trips he has done to those places and how much of a peak experience that was. He has done that twice, once in Indonesia and once in Sri Lanka. In Indonesia, he met the husband-and-wife team. The cooperation is a network of 2000 farmers. The manager is the wife, and the husband climbs the coconut palms. Al Shariat explicated, “It is a huge cooperative with a network of 2000 farmers and you hear all those remarkable stories, because it is not only the farm itself that benefits but also the lives of the people”. In Sri Lanka, there is again a husband-and-wife team. When Al Shariat first went to Sri Lanka, there was a small mill that was pressing out coconut oil, “They had a tiny little mill”. With Coconut Merchant’s support and their local partners, the facility expanded into a more developed operation.

As for the impact on the business itself, the UN organization “Business called to action” monitors their progress. If their business model is ideal, this UN organisation introduces this model to other businesses and that helps them expand more notably.

Business benefit

Coconut Merchant has the biggest range of novel coconut products. They have developed over 30 coconut products, a characteristic that makes them distinct from other businesses. Coconut Merchant is the number one online market for their products. They have an online strategy where they first assess the market using online platforms, and then try to get contributors. Initially, "Coconut Merchant" raised £4 million just by selling on Amazon. The company in hoping to expand in North America, where they will have bigger opportunities, since the market is 10x bigger than the U.K.

Social and environmental benefit

Coconut Merchant makes sure that farmers reach beyond their local community's market. They allow them to have regular orders and financial stability, “They can comfortably send their kids off to university, which is great”. Furthermore, these farmers are respected globally for their products and lastly, they have access to a fair workplace condition.

Interview

Al Shariat, Director and CEO of Coconut Merchant

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Coconut Merchant

Coconut Merchant

London, London, GB

Business Website: https://coconut-merchant.com/

Year Founded: 2014

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

Coconut Merchant shows how a company can be sustainably commercialised and simultaneously support its employees. The company has collaborated with farmers from all over Asia, like Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Coconut Merchant is trying to associate with different farmers and farmers’ cooperatives and provide them with a decent wage for their services. It is an opportunity for customers to not only have a taste of quality natural products, but also to share the produce of farmers in developing countries with the world.