All aboard the Kokonut Pacific

The crew at Kokonut Pacific, a Queanbeyan-based social enterprise and winner of the 2013 Queanbeyan Business Awards for wholesale and distribution. Photo: supplied.

The crew at Kokonut Pacific, a Queanbeyan-based social enterprise and winner of the 2013 Queanbeyan Business Awards for wholesale and distribution. Photo: supplied.

EACH year the Queanbeyan Business Awards aims to uncover and champion many of the hidden gems that can be found among the local business landscape.

One of last year's discoveries was Kokonut Pacific, a social enterprise run from an unassuming factory in the heart of Queanbeyan's industrial area.

The company manufactures a range of coconut-based products, the most popular being their virgin coconut oil through their 'Niulife' brand. They also produce coconut soap, lip balm, flour, jam, chips, butter, syrup, sugar, and sauce. Kokonut Pacific won the wholesale and distribution award in 2014.

"[The award] locally gives recognition to what we're doing, because a lot of people don't realise that we're here. We still get a lot of people coming to the door and saying 'I didn't know you were here', so that recognition is really nice," general manager Castaly Lombe said.

"Also, for a social enterprise to be winning an award against 'normal' businesses is a verification it is just a normal business that can actually do really well."

A social enterprise values working towards a common good rather than just focusing on turning a profit.

Kokonut Pacific has two objectives: exporting equipment overseas to extract coconut oil and then importing and selling that oil back in Australia.

The business currently works with smallholder farms based in the Solomon Islands. They train them in their method of coconut oil extraction called 'Direct Mirco Expelling' - a process they believe ends up with a premium product.

"It's fine to say we produce coconut oil. But is it good coconut oil? That matters," Ms Lombe said.

"It's not enough to say we're a social enterprise - 'we do good but we have a crap product'. The nice thing about [our] process is that it actually produces a better quality oil than a factory.

"We test it when it's made, collected in Honiara and again when it arrives here. We blend it for taste, smell and consistency."

2014 is a big year for the company. It's been two decades since it was first founded by Dan and Maureen Etherington; 10 years since they first started getting oil out of the Solomon Islands and it also marks the launch of their next big project, a coconut technology centre.

The centre will be a self-funding producer, a place to help train farmers as well as research other ways to use coconuts.

The business wants to diversify so they can get the most out of the coconuts - not just oil but also use the leftover coconut meal to feed livestock, the shell and husk turned into particle board or burnt in gas lamps and diesel engines. The centre will be based in the capital, Honiara.

"What the technology education centre...is saying is let's take this little, humble coconut and see what it can do, how many things it can make," Ms Lombe said.

The company is going from strength to strength especially as coconut oil gains popularity - something that has only happen quite recently.

"We used to have trade shows, seven or eight years ago, everyone would say 'that's going to give me heart disease, it's going to kill me'. Occasionally you could get somebody to buy it," operations manager Ian Gray said.

"Now we go and they say 'I already use coconut oil, what other products do you have?'."

For more information, visit www.kokonutpacific.com.au. To vote for The Queanbeyan Business Awards, go to: www.queanbeyanbusinessawards.com.au. Voting closes August 8. 

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