Lois Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: pushing the quality envelope

Like several other emerging local entrepreneurial pursuits, the South American Coco Company is looking to enhance its capacity to consolidate and expand through the Small Business Bureau’s recently launched Micro and Small Enterprise Development Project (MSED), which will address the single biggest handicap to the growth of the small business sector in Guyana: financing.

Founder and Managing Director of the South American Coco Company Lois Rickford is one of a growing army of young local entrepreneurs who have graduated from the post-secondary school goal of respectable public and private sector jobs in public administration, management and banking to the loftier ambition of building businesses of their own. In a society where business ambitions had once been limited mostly to merchant families, this is a good sign.

In Rickford’s case, she has chosen to take advantage of the global niche that has emerged from a contemporary coconut oil craze that is linked to good health and good looks. Her own virgin coconut oil is, the company’s brochure says, “made from fresh, properly ripened coconut flesh.” It is, the brochure says, far more “quality sensitive” than commercial grade coconut oils that are manufactured from copra, the dried kernel of the coconut.

The company’s operations in Region Five employ five persons. The production process is the purview of her father, Humberto Hamilton, an affable 65-year-old retired teacher. He says the factory produces up to two hundred pints of oil per week and can increase production to suit demand.

Lois Rickford tending the South American Coco stall at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture exhibition in Guyana.
Lois Rickford tending the South American Coco stall at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture exhibition in Guyana.

Rickford herself is an intense and seemingly focused entrepreneur and, by her own admission, “an aggressive marketer”.

In December 2012, Lois’ Extra Virgin Coconut oil first appeared on the local market. Over a relatively brief period the product has found its way onto the shelves of more than a dozen local pharmacies and supermarkets. Still, she persists in pushing the quality envelope, preoccupied with what she believes is the need to move ever closer to the quality standards set for exporters targeting the North American market. That, ultimately, is her key target market.

Judged by local standards, the company’s labelling and bottling are second to none and the range of products appear to have found an impressive measure of acceptance as both cosmetic and culinary products. Still, Rickford appears preoccupied with searching for more improvement.

During her interview with Stabroek Business, Rickford spoke about her ongoing search in Europe and Asia for upgraded equipment that could enhance the production process and further improve the quality of the product. Beyond her preoccupation with production she is also in constant pursuit of labelling and bottling initiatives to improve the presentation of her product. Arguably, it was her femininity that led her to coconut oil. She was watching a television programme that extolled the virtues of coconut oil and was bowled over by the smoothness of the product promoter’s skin. Thereafter, she found her way to the establishment of a company through her own diligent research pursuits and the support of her father.

South American Coco Company makes appearances at various local trade fairs and exhibitions. Rickford says these are a useful barometer with which to measure the popularity of the brand. GuyExpo 2013 was an important marketing success for the company, while the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture regional product exhibition staged at the International Conference Centre afforded the company the opportunity to display its products in a regional setting.

Already established at local outlets that include the Guyana Marketing Corporation’s Guyana Shop, Medicare Pharmacy, major urban supermarkets and outlets on the West Coast Berbice, Rickford is eyeing the Caribbean as her next stop. She is toying with the idea of a visit, possibly to Trinidad and Tobago, where market access for Guyanese products has traditionally not been easy. It is perhaps as stern a test as her products are likely to face anywhere in the region.

The South American Coco Company is a long way from the era of raw coconut oil which, even in those days, was highly touted as a product with important health properties. What the company and its ambitious owner seek to do is to help take Guyana to “the next level” in a global economy that is placing increasing emphasis on value-added products.

 

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