Two graduate entrepreneurs are looking to expand their not-for-profit business selling coconut oil produced on the Fijian island of Batiki.
Callum Drummond, from from Churchdown in Gloucester, and friend Ellis Williams, who attended Bristol University, aim to drive up sales of their Bula Batiki Coconut Oil and plough the money back into education and healthcare on the island
Their plan to make extra virgin coconut oil won last year’s Cardiff University Sparks Enterprise Award – giving them £2,000 to kick start the venture.
Mr Drummond, 23, who studied psychology at Cardiff University, graduated last summer. By then he’d already forged long-standing friendships with families on the island.
He and Mr Williams, 23, from Llandyssil in Powys, first visited Batiki in 2012 as volunteers with the charity Think Pacific, teaching and coaching sport in the island’s primary school.
“The islanders were amazing. They treated us like family.” said Mr Drummond.
“I knew in 2012 that I had to go back and see them again. We returned for Christmas in December 2014, and really experienced the subsistence hardships they face.
“We wanted to find a way of helping the families who had been so kind to us. The family I stayed with asked me ‘do you use coconut oil back in the UK,’ and that was really the ‘lightbulb moment.’
"It’s innovation in a nutshell. We saw that the villagers could produce coconut oil on the island, and we realised coconut oil was becoming increasingly popular in the UK.
“We then started trying to create a business plan to produce pure virgin coconut oil on Batiki, ship it to the UK, jar it, and then reinvest the profits back into the community in order to develop housing, healthcare and education.
“Our primary aim is to establish a sustainable source of income. Producing coconut oil allows the villagers to earn more than double their previous income from selling copra (dried coconut).”
Since starting Bula Batiki Coconut Oil in May last year, the friends and business partners have sold 800 jars of the oil around the world – including China, Australia and the US – with all profits going to Batiki projects.
The business partners have now launched a month-long Kickstarter fund-raiser to increase oil production.
In return for pledging money to support the project, people can select rewards including a set number of coconut oil jars, branded t-shirts, and even a potential trip to Fiji. All funds go to Batiki education and healthcare.
“We are not pressurising Batiki islanders to change their way of life, as we don’t want to change their culture. Families only participate if they want to get involved. The chiefs in the four villages on the island really understand what we’re trying to do, and they’re really backing the project. It can help triple families’ incomes.”
Coconut oil can be used for frying, baking, and roasting. It can also be used in hair and skin care and as a natural moisturiser.
Each jar of Bula Batiki Coconut Oil carries a tag noting the island family which harvested the oil.