Coconut Chilli’s exquisite range of heat-and-eat dishes is inspired by ingredients that grow in India’s lush, green Hill Stations, an area once loved by the British Raj as cool relief from the heat below.
By spending many summers on her aunt’s Hill Station coffee estate in Coorg, home to some of Southern India’s most fertile terrain. It’s that exact place that Navina Bartlett – Lady Boss and founder of the delicious brand, fell in love with the local cuisine, scents, flavour and the sheer abundance of exotic ingredients growing all around.
With a great ambitious track record for far, we chat with the ‘Ethical Food Entrepreneur’ about her future plans and what she believes is the key ingredient as to why consumers buy into any business.
Hey Navina, you are currently on a mission to plug the gaping wide hole in the food industry, can you tell us more?
I’ve taken a U-turn on the traditional route of scaling a food start up – retail – and we are focusing on selling our range of gourmet, South Indian meal pots mainly online & directly to office-based customers. It’s because we would have been forced to cut corners and decrease product quality for the retail sector and that’s against my principles of working towards growing Coconut Chilli as a B-Corp – a for-profit business that has social and environmental outcomes as part of its mission.
You spent so many summers’on your aunt’s Hill Station coffee estate in Coorg, home to some of Southern India’s most fertile terrain and where you were mostly inspired. Can you talk us through the early development stages of how you began to put the concept into motion?
Coorg is home to some of Southern India’s most fertile terrain and after spending many a summer there as a child, I fell in love with the local cuisine, scents, flavours and the sheer abundance of exotic ingredients growing all around. Amongst the coffee bushes, I discovered coconuts, bamboo, pumpkin, cardamom, oranges, and chilli and the idea of Coconut Chilli was born.
Coconut Chilli is a sophisticated British food brand that draws on the heritage of the fruitful ‘Hill Station’ region of Coorg and it was important to create a brand that balanced contemporary and traditional, as well as creating thoroughly modern Indian recipes which appealed to the British palate.
As an Ethical Food Entrepreneur, how do you feel by helping the planet is benefiting your business?
In an age where discount promotions have become the norm, brands and businesses can no longer expect to grow if they compete on price alone. Take Dove as an example, now seen as a champion for ‘real women’ or Wholefoods who embody their ‘higher purpose statement’ of “we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet can flourish.” These brands do well because customers feel they know what they stand for and that by choosing to buy their products, consumers are serving a higher moral purpose of their own. I’m genuinely using Coconut Chilli as a vehicle to change the way the food industry operates and sustainability is at the heart of it.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you as the Founder and CEO of Coconut Chilli?
As a working mother, I struggle every day with juggling priorities. I can often be found editing the online content for our website while cooking dinner for my 13-year-old daughter and her friends. Luckily I run a virtual office and can work from just about anywhere as long as I have Wi-Fi. Sometimes I do wonder if it would be easier if I just had the business to worry about but motherhood brings a ton of skills which are really important when you’re a business owner – resilience being just one.
So now you since you have tones of loyal Coconut Chilli fans. How you think your product differentiates from others on the market at the moment and what do you believe is the key ingredient as to why consumers buy into a business?
Our fresh herb garnish and best quality ingredients ensure our products are superior to the mass produced ready meals which often lack taste because manufacturers place importance on shelf life over flavour. We’ve won lots of awards for our delicious food including Taste of the West and Great Taste and this is really important as a way if telling customers how good our food is. Our ethically minded consumers are keen to know their food is made in small batches and at food festivals we’ve attended, like Jamie Oliver’s ‘The Big Feastival’, loads of customers tell us how they are so supportive of what we’ve achieved so far and the ethical way that we do it.
Finally, congratulations on your recent application for Virgin StartUp as a small business owner, what are your next steps to expand Coconut Chilli?
We’ve moved our production kitchen from Bristol to London now and the next growth phase for Coconut Chilli is to secure solid angel investment so we can manufacture five days a week. We need to really focus on our online sales, which is where the business has real potential to scale.