If you said your business was based in Peckham, Hong Kong and Singapore a decade ago, people would have thought you were on some sort of Only Fools and Horses wind up.
Today however, it is quite the opposite. Peckham is becoming a hot bed for innovative start-ups that are putting the borough on par with the likes of Shoreditch and Camden.
One company in particular that is helping buck this trend is The Coconut Company, launched by entrepreneur Mike Pilgrim whilst he was living in Southeast Asia.
When Mike and his Filipino partner bought an old battered boat in the Philippines little did he realise it would be the start of a successful coconut health food business in Peckham Rye.
Mike, a seasoned telecom executive originally from Farnham, moved to Asia in 1988 and spent his time helping establish new mobile phone and telecom businesses.
Tiring of the corporate life, he quit his job in 2003 and became involved in a number of start-up businesses.
Mike said: “I was approached by a retired Filipino navy officer who wanted to create new income opportunities for the local people on an isolated Island called Alabat in the Philippines, by operating a ship that could carry vehicles, commercial cargo and people to and from the mainland.”
Following this, Mike and the navy officer (who became his local partner) bought what can only be described as a ‘wreck’, in the form of a 35 year old roll-on roll-off ferry called “The Odyssey” and, after a lot of hard work and effort, Alabat island began to prosper through employment of local islanders, construction of roads and other infrastructure and increase in local commerce.
The Alabat mayor and his officials were so pleased with the results of the new transport link that Mike was asked if he could find a use for 300,000 coconut husks that were left over each day from islanders making coconut oil.
I realised that the husks could be easily processed to extract coconut fiber which is used in mattresses, car seats, door mats and for anti-soil erosion and horticultural applications,” said Mike. With this in mind, Mike and his partner built a coconut husk processing plant on the Island, employing 50 people, and started to export coconut fiber to China.
It didn’t take long for Mike to realise that coconuts could also offer healthy food and drink products, more profitable than coconut fibre, that would also bring further economic benefits to poor coconut farmers and their families. So after a year of preparation, Mike launched a range of coconut health products to sell in the UK and Europe.
Mike realised he needed a partner to make the business successful in the UK and in 2014 he brought into the business a trusted friend, in the form of Vicky Henley. Together they set up a base in South East London for promoting and selling the coconut products and The Coconut Company was born.
Today the Peckham Rye start-up is booming and offers a wide range of products, from virgin coconut oil, coconut milk powder, flour and sugar, to more unique offerings such as coconut sap vinegar, amino sauces and nectar. This year has seen a huge surge in sales; with products launching not only in stores in the UK, but in many countries around the globe.
The brand has since become known for its high quality and tasty products - picking up awards along the way including a Great Taste award and winner in The Healthy Food Guide’s Food & Drink awards.
The company also has a processing facility in Wales, which packs the bulk coconut products imported from the Philippines into jars, bottles and pouches that are then sent to distributors and retailers in the UK and to export customers.
But is not just about business, The Coconut Company also recognises the importance of forging community links with the Philippines and as part of its corporate social responsibility activity, The Coconut Company has teamed up with local residents to their London operation to collect and send out a shipment of clothes and toys to a local village in the Philippines where villagers lost everything due to a typhoon, a common occurrence in the country.
Going forward, Mike has ambitious plans for the company. He concluded: "From small beginnings in 2015, the UK business has grown tremendously during 2016 in both the wholesale and bulk coconut markets. We hope to double our turnover again during 2017.
"However, we see greater potential for growth in export markets, compared to the UK, so greater emphasis will be on sales from our US, HK and Singapore offices, with the UK office remaining as the production centre.
"New product development will also be a key focus in 2017, where emphasis is on developing a range of healthy coconut drinks and coconut based snacks."