Sometimes, opportunities present themselves at the most unexpected times. The ones who recognise them and grab them, are the ones who usually taste success. COCOTANG, the world’s first exclusive tender coconut–milk shake brand, was also conceived by accident while its owner was pregnant. COCOTANG is owned by Dr. Neelima T. who completed her BDS and MBA and used to be a dental practitioner.
Due to some medical complications during her pregnancy, she was advised bed rest and diet modifications. Coconut water formed an important part of her diet. She realised that the drink helped her cope well with her medical problems. It was then that she took interest in the fruit and started studying extensively about the benefits of coconut and coconut water.
From her in-depth research she found that tender coconut pulp, rich in fibre and low in fat, is one of the richest sources of Monolaurin. Monolaurin is an antibiotic, antiviral, anti-fungal and immune-boosting agent, which makes it safe for every age group starting from six-month-old infants to the elderly. It has promising health benefits.
This experience inspired her to start COCOTANG, and to fortify coconut water with fruits to make it more palatable and nutritious. She used the tender coconut pulp to make pulp shakes in many exciting flavours. Her team worked with the National Institute of Nutrition to identify the right ingredients to ensure consistency in taste, and proper scientific handling procedures to enhance the shelf life of the products. Today, COCOTANG manufactures a wide range of tender coconut shakes and coconut mocktails. These drinks are dairy-free and preservative-free and are a great replacement for milkshakes, especially for vegans, and people with lactose intolerance.
Their uniqueness lies in the products themselves, and in the way COCOTANG delivers its services. The menu is dynamic, and changes seasonally, bringing a fresh menu every three months. The focus is on value addition to nature’s best electrolyte drink, i.e., coconut water. They do it by adding fruits to the drink, based on every customer’s taste.
The company also boasts of creating unique drink combinations that address some specific health problems thus benefitting customers in many ways. These are usually special detoxification drinks made with coconut milk. This is an excellent replacement of milkshakes for vegans and people with lactose intolerance.
Before launching the venture, she conducted a pilot study in Chandanagar in 2016. Once the concept was well-received by people, she set up two kiosks. Due some problems between her landlord and the municipality, she was asked to relocate and that delayed the opening of her store. Neelima never gave up trying, and in 2017 she opened a walk-in store at Pragathi Nagar.
They worked very hard to take this concept to the public. It was an uphill task as they did not have any connections in the market, nor any support to thrive in the entrepreneurial sector. While struggling to increase visibility and awareness for the product, the networking support and assistance they received from BYST contributed largely to their success.
Neelima learnt about BYST through one of their Awareness Generation Programs.She was counselled, trained, and presented her business plan to the bankers with support from the BYST officials. Post this, she got a loan amount of INR 5.84 lakhs (£5880). She received timely support from BYST and the right guidance from her assigned mentor Mr. Ashok Kumar Gupta.
Mr Ashok Kumar Gupta, Managing Director, Rockwell Industries Limited, Hyderabad, is Neelima’s mentor. He has been a pillar of support at every stage of her business. From helping her with his knowledge and expertise, to using his own experience in chillers and refrigerators manufacturing background, he has stood by her. He helped her choose the right machinery and created a great network base leveraging BYST connections. He has been constantly motivating her to showcase her products at various events conducted by BYST-CII and other partner organizations. Once she met her mentor, there was no turning back for Neelima. She is constantly in touch with him and takes his suggestions before making any important decision for her business.
Encouraged by this support, they opened an online store in Gachinowli in August 2017 with minimum investment. As the next step, they adopted the cloud-kitchen model with lesser overheads and investment and opened one more store in Madhapur in 2018. This helped them study and understand customer behaviour in the area well.
Neelima’s story is quite a turn of fate, given her background and history. Elder of two siblings, Neelima is not even from an entrepreneurial background. Her father is a bank manager at the Andhra Bank. She got married to Chaitanya, who is the son of a mechanic and has faced many challenges while trying to complete his education.
In this process, she took suggestions from CFTRI and CDB, met many food technicians and had her team do retrograde work right from the procurement of farm for perennial raw material supply. Through this journey she faced a lot of opposition for deviating from her dental practice. With due support from her husband, she quit her dental practice. Though her family resisted in the beginning, they saw promising results from the pilot they ran from her husband’s friend’s restaurant. This helped them gain the trust of their family members and they started their business with their own investment.
Her team spent many hours developing a product and getting it approved by NIN, all the research work was done in small premises at home with limited resources. Being unprocessed food, initially the shelf life of the product was a problem. But she stuck to her conviction and over the years, she went on to win the JCI Business excellence award in 2018 and her name has been mentioned in the Telugu Book of records. Her entrepreneurial journey is also a case study in the Emerald Journal in UK, North America, Japan, India, Malaysia, and China.
COCOTANG has passed many phases to reach the product shelf life of a week. They are still working extensively to increase the shelf life without involving any processing or heating to preserve its naturalness. As the product is a novelty, they spent a lot of time understanding and studying the benefits. The knowledge of physiology helped Neelima a lot here.
However, the novelty of the new products was wearing off at COCOTANG India. They had started a business by bootstrapping (funding the venture with their own resources) but soon faced financial constraints. They ran out of resources and were literally facing the gun. Without funding, the venture could not progress any further.
At this stage, they approached BYST in 2016. Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust is a trust that encourages, incubates and handholds budding entrepreneurs in India. Learning about the unique product mix of COCOTANG India, BYST helped them secure a business loan and even assigned Mr. Ashok Kumar Gupta as a mentor for them to handhold and support them in their journey. Mr. Gupta is a senior mentor at BYST Hyderabad cluster.
COCOTANG India is an innovation-driven company. Its unique combination of flavours also addresses some specific health problems. Customers who benefit from the product relate it to a special detoxification drink made with coconut milk. The USP of COCOTANG is the fact that the whole process is natural, and it’s an environment-friendly brand. There is no other brand exclusively manufacturing coconut-based milkshakes. As the whole process is natural, COCOTANG does not cause any hazards to the environment, and all the by-products are put to maximum use and are biodegradable.
Secondly, coconut water is not just refreshing. It is high in potassium and contains most of the health benefits found in sports drinks (which are not natural). A typical 16-ounce carton of coconut water is low-carb and has about 80 calories. That’s about half or less than what is present in a similar-sized soft drink. Besides, it is devoid of all the sugar and chemicals that are crammed into a can of soda.
All COCOTANG’s drinks are packed under hygienic conditions and dispatched to consumers in a properly maintained cold system. The primary consumers range from the health-conscious people, vegans, the lactose intolerant, gym goers, the hotel industry (welcome drinks) etc.
Currently, there are 10 employees in the company, and the company appreciates and acknowledges their efforts. The best performance is awarded an incentive and bonus. For unmarried female employees, COCOTANG gives one month’s salary as a bonus at the time of marriage. It also pays exam fees for some employees. With the company growing, they are now looking into the health and welfare needs of the employees as well their families.
According to the COCOTANG team, “As an organization, it is the public or community who helps us earn. We feel responsible and thus, we follow certain principles. We spend 5% of our profit share on social activities. Once every month, we conduct a food drive. We donate schoolbooks or pay the school fees for the marginalised. We also buy furniture for old-age homes. Most importantly, we ensure that every bit of plastic from our factory goes into recycling. We never use things that are hazardous to our workers, or the environment. We never subject our food to a harmful process as we want to keep our products as natural as we can. The product is quite sustainable. With increasing awareness around health and wellness, the market share for healthy juices is expected to increase by 5.7% annually. In a consumer-based market, with the growing demand, offering quality is key for sustainability”.