Million dollar industry

A NEW Fijian company has plans to create a multi-million dollar export industry on what it says is the purest virgin coconut oil in the world.

The Coconut Company (Fiji) Ltd is already producing products by adding value to the estimated 75 million coconuts that fall to the ground in Fiji every year and are never used.

It is developing a range of coconut based products that will be launched in the next few months.

The Coconut Company is a big change in career direction for Sharon Smith-Johns, the former permanent secretary for the Ministry of Information in the Bainimarama Government, who resigned to resume her business career after the September election.

“Since the decline of the copra industry, tens of millions of coconuts continue to grow on plantations throughout Fiji but are never utilised,” company co-founder Ms Smith-Johns said in a statement.

She said they intended to empower grassroots communities and generate revenue for them and for Fiji by turning this wasted resource into a major export earner.

“When I left government, I took a holiday in Savusavu and Taveuni, the heart of what used to be the copra industry before the collapse of world prices.

“I was talking to farmers who were bemoaning the loss of the industry when I started to think about ways in which we could turn all these unused nuts into items of value again — to reinvent the coconut industry in Fiji.”

She said other companies had added value on a smaller scale but the idea behind the Coconut Company was much more ambitious — to develop a range of high quality products to take the Fijian-Made coconut brand to the world and earn new strands of export income in which ordinary Fijians also had a stake.

Before heading the Government’s information effort, Ms Smith-Johns spent many years in marketing and the skills she gained in major Australian companies such as Fairfax Media were being put to good use in the Coconut Company.

“It isn’t enough to source the nuts and turn them into a range of top quality products. We need to find markets for those products around the world.”

Furthermore, she said plans to export virgin coconut oil to China were well advanced.

And as well as targeting Fiji’s traditional markets of Australia and New Zealand, she added the company has its eye to export to the rest of the Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

“Consumers everywhere are always looking for quality and that’s what we intend to give them — the best of everything that can be derived from the humble Fijian coconut.”

As there are no added chemicals, she said Fiji’s virgin coconut oil was pure, and it was rapidly becoming a household item, consumers were cooking with it, drinking it and using it for its many health benefits.

Ms Smith-Johns said a central platform of company’s business plan was to put money back into local rural and maritime economies.

“Even on conservative projections, we estimate that more than $1.5million will flow into rural and maritime communities by the end of 2017 from the sale of our oil and coconut products.

“And, of course, the more we export the greater the amount of revenue we will bring back into the country.

“I’m convinced that we are going to see a great revival in the local coconut industry, with flow-on benefits to the rest of the economy and every Fijian,” she said.