Ceylon coconut: From villain to superhero!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Ceylon Coconut Company launched this week to take Sri Lanka’s super food to the world
  • Kumar Sangakkara says decision to be part of CCC grounded in his childhood

Ceylon Coconut Company Directors Gehan De Alwis, Chamila Wickramasinghe, Avanthie De Zoysa and Kumar Sangakkara with some of the CCC products

An extension of the island’s all-embracing coconut culture, the Ceylon Coconut Company (CCC), headed by four dynamic individuals with absolute devotion to this miraculous fruit, is focused on cultivating, nurturing and producing the world’s best coconut and taking it global.

Launched this week, CCC has Directors Kumar Sangakkara, Gehan De Alwis, Avanthie De Zoysa and Chamila Wickramasinghe at the helm, bound by the passionate cause of empowering the local coconut farmer. The company aims to educate global consumers on the intrinsic natural benefits of coconuts while making the Ceylon coconut easily accessible to more people around the world. Virgin coconut oil is one of the few foods in the world that can be classified as a super food and offers a range of minerals, vitamins and micronutrients. Via its organic product range, Ceylon Coconut Company presents virgin coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut butter, king coconut water and virgin coconut oil nutritional supplements, which offer the world the myriad benefits of the Ceylon coconut. CCC products will be marketed globally, while they will also be available locally via selected premium outlets. Sangakkara: Passionate about coconuts While the coconut has been vilified over the years as being unhealthy, Sangakkara begs to differ. “The decision to be part of the Ceylon Coconut Company is grounded in my childhood, where I remember my parents being great advocates of the health benefits of coconut oil. There were articles in newspapers at various times for and against coconut oil and at home it was a topic of debate, but my parents always believed in coconut oil,” said Sangakkara, in an interview with the Daily FT last morning. “I grew up with the coconut being part of my upbringing and it’s amazing how the world has done a 360 degree-turn now: the coconut has come back to being the healthiest oil around; not just for cooking, but also for consumption in raw form. Virgin coconut oil has now reclaimed its rightful place. It’s unbelievable how far the coconut has come from being a villain to a superhero,” he added. Asked if he will be equally passionate about coconut as he is about cricket, Sangakkara responded: “Cricket for me was a late start in my life; I was playing other sports and started cricket quite late. However, coconut oil and coconut products have been part and parcel of who we are as Sri Lankans from our infancy in various ways – be it pol sambol, coconut oil or kurumba water. It is nothing new so it doesn’t take a special effort to be passionate about something we deeply believe in.” Commenting on his dual roles as a sportsman and an entrepreneur, Sangakkara said they are interconnected because the opportunities for entrepreneurship have come mainly through cricket and other associations he has made along the way in his cricketing career. “This of course is slightly different but the fact that I am a cricketer can actually initially help the company in the short-term. I haven’t really shifted from cricket as such – it’s a partnership and it goes hand-in-hand. This particular venture is very close to our hearts as a group of very likeminded people. We’ve really gone back to our roots, to something from our childhood, something we associated with very strongly… and now we’re trying to take it global and further its fame.” Sangakkara asserted that the partnership and synergy with the others in the company has been very valuable, given that they too are great believers in coconut and use the product themselves. High-end niche product While the industry is not new to Sri Lanka, CCC will differentiate in terms of its product offering. “The difference very simply is that we are trying to create a high-end niche product and a finished product, not just supply virgin coconut oil in bulk form. I think Sri Lanka is still in the infancy of supplying proper, value-added finished products. When it comes to virgin coconut oil, the country is still largely supplying in bulk form. We are creating a niche high-end brand where we want to take virgin coconut oil global, we want to take the brand global, and we want to take the Ceylon coconut itself global. The Ceylon coconut is a wonderful product,” emphasised Sangakkara. Outlining why the company chose to use the name ‘Ceylon,’ he said: “The recorded history of the Ceylon coconut goes very far back, even before Christ. I also think the name itself has its own charm and roots. In historical texts we’ve had different names for Sri Lanka and Ceylon has its own mystical charm.” Immense health benefits Pointing out that the Ceylon coconut has been a part of our lives every single day as something we grew up with, CCC Director Avanthie De Zoysa said she wants to share with the world that this nutritious product has immense health benefits. “We give it to our children to improve brain power and for its immunity and anti-bacterial properties. This is a truly wonderful super food we have in Sri Lanka that we want to take to the rest of the world. It is a premium product with a lot of goodness.” For CCC Director Chamila Wickramasinghe, the coconut has been more of a way of life than it has been for most people. “I am very much into a very high fat, low carb lifestyle and long before we even started this, I tracked down coconut flour manufacturers to make use of the product and learn about it. At the time, the manufacturers themselves were asking me ‘what can you do with this?’ I have approached it from a completely different angle and I’ve been experimenting with the product like a mad scientist to know its benefits,” she revealed. Outlining how the company was born, she said: “My husband and his family have a rather large estate, Littlemore, where they’ve been cultivating coconuts, which were transported elsewhere. We got together and wanted to do something more and everything fell into place as we discussed how to go about it.” Growing the industry The whole concept is about highlighting the country, asserts Wickramasinghe, stating that Sri Lanka is presently the fourth largest supplier to the global market, primarily because we consume over 80% of the product within the country. “If we push and make this valuable, there will be an impetus and an incentive in the market to increase production. If we can position ourselves to say that coconuts from Sri Lanka are the premium ones, then our income as a country will rise. We want to make the whole industry prosper. It’s a push for the industry to get up there and get noticed as a country and also as a brand.” Concurring with Wickramasinghe, CCC Director Gehan De Alwis stated: “Chamila and I both follow a high fat, low carb diet and while doing extensive research into this, we found out that coconut oil is one of the best oils to have. We wanted to see how we can highlight the value of the Ceylon coconut.” Ceylon coconut of superior quality Anything that grows in this country is always of good quality, taste and flavour, he asserted. “When we carried out our research, we found that in terms of flavour, taste and nutrition value, the Ceylon coconut is of superior quality and we have some unique coconut varieties. As a result, we decided to develop the Ceylon coconut brand and take it to the world and help the industry as well through our efforts.” De Alwis emphasised that the CCC wants to ensure the benefits trickle down to the farmers as well. “It has to help everybody in the chain. We consume over 80% of our coconut production; whatever that remains is only about 3 to 4% of the global demand. The more we grow, the more we can catch up. For us to meet the global demand, the farmers have to be willing to grow and they have to benefit from it.” Ceylon Coconut Company’s mission Ceylon Coconut Company’s mission is to be a globally-recognised brand from Sri Lanka, offering a hygienic and unadulterated product range that meets the high standards of today’s health-conscious consumer. Combing traditional knowledge with modern techniques, the company’s farmers ensure that only the best plants are re-grown, providing the best yield and the thickest meat. The company will also educate the general public on the benefits and uses of coconut products, increase awareness of the premium Ceylon coconut, increase global demand for coconut-based products and help local farmers benefit from the increased international demand. Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera

 FT Profile: Ceylon Coconut Company Directors

  Four likeminded, homegrown entrepreneurs, with a singular love for all things coconut, and a vast family-owned working coconut estate, was the magical combination that gave rise to a vision that evolved into the Ceylon Coconut Company. The Ceylon Coconut Company Directors are Kumar Sangakkara, Gehan De Alwis, Avanthie De Zoysa and Chamila Wickramasinghe. Kumar Sangakkara, one of the world’s top sportsmen, holds the world record for the highest partnership in Test history and is one of the few batsmen who can claim the impossible record of amassing 10,000+ runs in both Tests and ODIs and has played 547 international matches for Sri Lanka and hit 35 centuries in 122 Tests. Everyone knows all that about Kumar, and also knows that he is married to his childhood sweetheart and is the devoted father of twins. Yet, how many people know that Kumar’s family has only ever used coconut oil in their food? When coconut oil was vilified by researchers and nutritionists in the 1980s, Kumar’s family held on to the firm belief that there was nothing healthier, since it has been the food of this island for centuries. Gehan De Alwis has 15 years of experience in marketing and new business development in industries as varied as energy and IT services. He combines unique skills: These are skills not limited to his MBA, managing his own company or his hands-on experience in running his family coconut estate; they are skills of a man who is passionate about serving his community through Rotary and believes that life is nothing without daring and courage. Avanthie De Zoysa’s 15 years of experience as a high-ranking retailer at some of Sri Lanka’s most competitive blue chip companies has been perfectly supplemented by her ability to juggle a teenage son, a kilt-wearing Scottish husband, an extended family and her love for reading spiritual books in her spare time. Her business major certainly complements her work with CCC. However, there are few who can match Avanthie’s sense of family responsibility, combined with her passion for ensuring that consumers get only those products that she will be happy to offer her own family. Chamila Wickramasinghe is not your ordinary stay-at-home mum of three. When a business-psychology major who once held the Miss Sri Lanka crown, was a top-rung corporate banker for a decade and who owned a boutique spa, takes over domestic duties, she is bound to cook up a culinary revolution. Chamila has tied up her low carb, high fat diet, her experiments with coconut flour and her passion for social responsibility with her husband’s sprawling ancestral coconut estate. “The result,” she says, “was a coconutty idea,” which will change, forever, the way we eat our coconuts.

 The Ceylon Coconut Foundation

  CCC is passionate about social responsibility and from inception it embraced its foundation and its goal to assist the industry and the individuals whose lives are dependent on its success. The mission of the Ceylon Coconut Foundation (CCF) is: To educate the public about the coconut, its health benefits and all its edible and inedible products; to increase awareness of the multiple uses of the coconut; to promote the Ceylon Coconut, focusing on its uniqueness, nutritional value and history; to undertake social projects that will enhance the image of the Ceylon Coconut; and to undertake projects that will assist farmers and families that are dependent on the success of the coconut industry in Sri Lanka. It also invites specialists from the industry to be a part of the Ceylon Coconut Foundation’s panel of experts – a group that will promote the goodness of the Ceylon Coconut to the public. All this information will be distributed freely and archived in the CCF website. A portion of the sales from the Ceylon Coconut Company will be allocated towards the Foundation, with the hope of making a positive difference to those whose livelihood depends on the Ceylon Coconut.