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Fiji firm finds markets

Pacific Periscope
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

PACIFIC Trade Invest has helped several Pacific Island companies push open the doors into international markets.

In just more than two years, Fiji's Tavulomo Coconut Processing Ltd (TCPL) has gone from Auckland's Food Show to Europe's ANUGA Food Fair.

It's been phenomenal progress for owners Chris Wyllie and Rusila Vere, who started with hard yards at New Zealand's weekend markets such Matakana and Otara.

Back in 2015 the couple built a coconut oil plant in Tavulomo with consent from Ms Vere's grandfather and the village chiefs.

They then swung into action training local villagers to process the coconut oil. They found good coconut suppliers and only selected the best quality coconuts. They successfully weathered Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston which devastated parts of Fiji sweeping close-by without landing. They were not completely spared the effects as Ms Vere recounted the night she and her mother sheltered under the floorboards of the local school to escape the cyclone.

Pacific Periscope has followed TCPL's growth and development from their first attendance at the local New Zealand Saturday markets through to Europe's biggest international Food Fairs and New Zealand's Food Shows. Pacific Periscope spoke with Mr Wyllie on how attending Food Shows on delegations organised by the PTI offices has helped grow his business.

PTI NZ's Path to Market workshop program provides a structured approach to understanding and entering the New Zealand market.

PTI NZ works with the Economic Development Agencies (EDAs) in Pacific Island Forum countries to identify potential exporters and run the in-country workshops. Once potential exporters have completed the course, PTI NZ invites them to move on to the next step of the program and attend Auckland's Pasifika Festival. Other PTI offices can also help companies gain access into international markets where the costs would be prohibitive.

In 2015, Mr Wyllie attended various Auckland Food Shows as a visitor gaining valuable market intel. A big turning point for Tavulomo came when Mr Wyllie was invited to attend ANUGA 2015 in Cologne, by PTI Europe's Trade Promotions Adviser Robyn Ekstrom.

ANUGA is one of Europe's biggest Food Fairs with 165,000 plus visitors and 7400 exhibitors. The experience for Mr Wyllie was exciting, but a little overwhelming. But the key contacts gleaned good outcomes today.

Mr Wyllie was then invited to attend SIAL Paris in October 2016, a global event for food service professionals with more than 7000 companies from more than 100 countries.

This year, Pacific Trade Invest New Zealand invited Tavulomo Coconut Processing to attend Auckland's Pasifika Festival as part of the Path to Market delegation of 25 Pacific Island-based companies. They were one of three Fijian companies on the delegation.

PTI NZ then invited them back for the Auckland Food Show in July. Mr Wyllie was ready to go again to this year's ANUGA 2017 Food Fair — one of Europe's biggest Food Expos — when he was struck with appendicitis. He did send products through to PTI Europe for exhibition.

By all accounts, My Wyllie is tenacious and innovative, picking up on new ideas quickly. Although not from a food background, Mr Wyllie says he is not afraid of trying something new. Realising demand for coconut oil was stabilising, he started trialling coconut water and secured a regular buyer. He also began testing new products such as coconut jerky — dried coconut pieces coated with different flavourings. The unusual sounding product however gained media attention from the New Zealand Herald and featured on various TV news items covering the Auckland Food Show's new and unusual products. In addition, Mr Wyllie also has a great food technologist who is assisting him to extend the shelf-life of the coconut products using computer technology.

But one of the biggest attraction for buyers is the extensive product testing and its 100 per cent traceability.

Mr Wyllie can trace exactly which farm/farmer supplied the original coconuts. The pickers, the numbers of coconuts accepted or rejected, the grade. Knowing every step of the process and controlling the costs has also been behind the company's appeal to buyers. "You've got to control the costs. If someone asks you, you have got to know your product," Mr Wyllie said.

Demand is amazing in Fiji he said. But he wants to expand further into Europe where he has established repeat coconut oil buyers in France and interest from Norway. He has another in Japan and a regular coconut water buyer in New Zealand. Although he uses a website and Facebook page to make reach international contacts, it's the personal touch at Food Shows through PTI Europe and PTI NZ that has helped him make solid contacts and gain feedback.

"I would never have found them without being there," Mr Wyllie said. "Buyers don't happen overnight from trade shows."

It may take 12 months or even more before things happen. Being part of PTI NZ's delegations to Pasifika Festival and the Auckland Food Show has also boosted promotion and gained valuable feedback from clients on new products such as coconut jerky.

Mr Wyllie is considering visiting countries in Europe personally to follow up on contacts. In addition, he is contemplating an invitation from PTI Europe to attend Barcelona's Food Show in April 2018.

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