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Cracking the Dilemma of Selling Ice Cream Directly to Consumers: Q&A with Coconuts Organic

In this Q&A, FGB speaks to Cecily Mills, founder of vegan ice cream brand Coconuts Organic. Here, Cecily explains how Coconuts has worked its way into major retailers across the UK, what the brand is doing to win customers away from more established ice cream brands, and cracking the problem of selling ice cream directly to consumers.

Can you briefly introduce us to Coconuts Organic?

Coconuts Organic was born out of my personal desire to see a genuinely good dairy-free offering in the ice cream category. Having altered my own diet to largely plant-based foods a few years before then, the one thing I longed for was indulgent ice cream. After a lot of experimenting, and a fair few disasters along the way I landed on a recipe that felt like a real winner. We launched in 2015, originally under the name Coconuts Naturally, with a subsequent rebrand to Coconuts Organic in 2019. Soon after launch we secured a listing with Morrisons in the South-West and Ocado, along with some fantastic independent stores. Last summer we launched into Tesco stores around the country, that was a massive moment for us! And, just last month we launched into M&S stores too, which was very special for me as I used to work at M&S!

Why did you decide your business needed a home delivery aspect (a model not traditionally used by ice cream brands)?

Home delivery was something we had discussed a number of times since founding the business, but logistics were always a barrier, proving too costly and/or not appropriate for frozen goods. So, the idea was repeatedly shelved. Then March happened, and the pandemic hit. Although our sales were strong with retail partners, there is a fragility that comes with being a smaller brand. So, in early April we really set our minds to coming up with a robust solution for DTC. It is true when they say ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. I’m so proud of the team for making this a reality in such a short space of time.

Cecily Mills, founder of vegan ice cream brand Coconuts Organic

Was home delivery always part of your plan or did Covid-19 change this? How else has Covid changed your business?

Like everyone, COVID was a huge shock for us as a business. There were many sleepless nights at the beginning of the pandemic, and we refocused a lot of our efforts into projects (such as the DtC) that had been planned for next year and beyond. Some key business goals have been postponed; namely a funding round that was pencilled in for March, and exciting plans to expand into the Chinese market. The latter would have been a significant part of our turnover for this year, but we are on track to execute this in Q1 2021.  I feel very grateful to be able to sit her now in July and reflect that we’ve actually had a very strong quarter despite COVID.

Customers have favourite ice cream brands – how are you trying to capture their attention? 

We bring something entirely different to the category. First and foremost,  we the only organic ice cream you’ll find on the shelves of Tesco and M&S.  Coconuts Organic is made with coconut cream and sweetened with unrefined coconut sugar to produce a thick and creamy texture. All of the ingredients used are as minimally processed as possible, which makes our ice cream a naturally healthier option. We have seen – and continue to see – a huge shift towards REAL foods. Consumers want to know exactly what they are eating. We have seen this reflected in our growing sales, and the continued interest from large retailers.

What does next year have in store for you?

Continuing to work on our DTC offering will be a big part of the business, as well as working closely with our retail partners. In June, mid-pandemic, we launched into M&S Food (something I am so thrilled about) so we hope to expand into additional stores, and with new retailers too. Like any food entrepreneur, new SKUs are always on the table, and we have been incredibly busy coming up with some exciting, fun flavours which will launch in the coming months.