The Dominican Perspective on the Coconut Enterprise
With the global economy constantly changing, one agricultural product stands out for the country of the Dominican Republic. The coconut is one of the top exporting goods for the country, and has become a source of viable entrepreneurship for residents alike. For one particular company, this fruit is crucial, as they are one of the many stand out businesses for coconut entrepreneurship in the Dominican Republic.
They are called Cocotai, and in this interview, co-owner Daniel Becerra reveals to us the process of building a successful enterprise surrounding this popular fruit, and its pertinence to DR culture and economy. Becerra also offered insight and entrepreneurial advice for those who are considering starting their own business, whether in the DR or elsewhere. Along with this, Becerra shared a glimpse into the future of their business and the entrepreneurial aspects of the coconut industry.
Latina Republic: Particularly in the Dominican Republic, there is quite a bit of competition with the coconut industry. How do you maintain an innovative product?
Daniel Becerra: Well, a pleasure Gabby, to meet you and all the people who listen to you. Yes, in the Dominican Republic there are many companies that make a living around the coconut. For many years, it has been a product that is handled on a very good scale in the country and that, in one way or another, has taken on significant interest.
The Dominican industry has one of the most important coconut industries in the region, and it is so much that, even now, there is a situation that is being solved, which is that of coconut plantations.
I don’t know if you know, coconut palms are very long-lived. In other words, to produce their first harvest can take up to five, six, seven years. It varies, depending on the type of palm tree.
So, of course, you cannot sow today, and collect tomorrow. Instead, you simply plant, wait these years and start your harvest process.
The growth in demand for coconut has increased so much that right now it is forcing an industry like the Dominican industry, which is important, to have to import coconuts from other places in order to meet demand.
Obviously, this is being solved. Many programs are being developed, even at the government level through planting palms and these same industries are also supporting this process.
But, if I am totally honest with you, I do not feel that there is an aggressive competition or anything like that among the people who make a living out of this industry, in this area, or in the country. Rather, since we started our business, what we have felt is a great support for other people to get involved and participate, because it is understood that it is a very important product for the local economy.
Latina Republic: For Dominicans, How important is the production of coconut products in your opinion, and what was the most difficult part for starting your business?
Daniel Becerra: Okay. Well. There is a very good anecdote from our business that I think answers both questions. When we started the business here in the Dominican Republic, my partner Andrés, who is also one of the founders, and who is, let’s say, the one who had the initial idea, he is from a Dominican, Venezuelan family.
We have been friends since we were young and he told me when he moved to the Dominican Republic, “Look, I think we should start a cocadas business.” Cocadas is a product that is consumed a lot in Venezuela, which is basically like a shake of coconut water with the tender coconut mass.
And I laughed a lot when I told him that in every corner of this country there is someone selling a fresh coconut. I asked him, “Why do you want to start a business in a sector that is completely covered? What would be the difference? How can we succeed here?”
And he tells me, “Yes, it’s true, culturally, everywhere there is a coconut vendor. But no one is preparing the shake. We can become pioneers in another way,” he said.
And I told him, “Yes, but if nobody is preparing the shake, it must be for a reason. In other words, it can’t be that something as simple as putting the water in a blender with the fresh coconut mass that you have everywhere, is a problem. What is happening and why is this not being tried?”
And we did an analysis and market studies and we realized that although the Dominican consumes a lot of other products, such as juices with slightly higher amounts of sugar, in the case of coconut, the Dominican is super demanding. I mean, it has to be fresh, it has to be natural, because culturally, they have always consumed it that way.
In other words, you are in any corner and there is a person selling a coconut and they open it for you at the moment, they deliver it to you, you drink the water and if you want to eat the dough, they finish opening it for you right there so that you can eat it. It is super organic and very natural.
So, the cocada (the shake) is beaten and manipulates a raw material that is very changeable. So you have to add sugar, add milk to stabilize it and people generated a lot of rejection at first, “Why this way? The coconut has to be natural,” and then I remember that at that moment I said, “well, this is going to be the project.”
How are we going to guarantee, with such a variable raw material, that we will always have the same water and the same mass to provide a standard product or a stable product? And I remember that while investigating, the only solution that occurred to me was that we needed to have access to one of these industries that handle very large quantities and that they allow us to select the raw material that we need. And so, it was.
We started hiring some of those industries that are big industries. In the beginning, they were our great support. Today, in a certain way, we owe them everything that we are. And that’s how we started at that time, with those much larger companies that were already working in the country, little by little, simply out of good will, they decided to support us, and that’s how you can really say that we started the business, started the project.
Latina Republic: What is necessary to start a coconut enterprise? Is it necessary to have capital, particular technologies, or machines?
Daniel Becerra: Yes, look. I would tell anyone who wants to undertake a business and not only in the coconut, in anything, that they don’t just blindly fall in love with their idea. Which means that although, I love it, and I enjoy it, and it is what I want to do the most, it is not necessarily something that perhaps has a massive impact or many people will be interested in, and in the end, you have to be objective and you have to understand that you are preparing a project, something to sell. So, the more people that are interested in your product, the greater the chance of success.
My biggest piece of advice would be to take the time to develop the product, to assess the need. You have to identify that need.
Look, I want to make coconut products. Okay? Let me first go to the local market to see what other products are there so as not to enter into something that is already done. Perhaps the other thing is, consider what differentiator or what added value will you provide and how your product will stand out. What would make my product draw attention?
And then, once you have all those initial steps, there are people who obviously invest money and pay others to do it, to conduct market research. But, I understand that as entrepreneurs, we can even do it ourselves by going to a supermarket, looking at other products or buying them and trying them out and developing better ideas and better concepts.
We can go on developing things, and once you already know how to make an initial prototype, give it a try, and have others try it, but not within your inner circle or your friends, because their answers can be a bit biased.
You are not going to tell your friend that it turned out horrible, are you? (laughter) Or your brother or your cousin. In other words, go to a place where no one knows you. And ask them, I want you to try this and give me your opinion and give me your real opinion.
So this is an option. Then, the other option, thank God, now in the Dominican Republic there are even more platforms for the incubation of ventures that in one way or another help you, guide you.
They connect you with the right people. So, whether you want to work on packaging or product development, a nutritional table, it could be a thousand things. Today, there is a lot of support in that regard.
So, the first thing, without a doubt, is to be objective and even though you could be very much in love with your product, it does not mean that it is the best, so you have to be open to modifying it and to listen to the need so that you can make the correct match. We can’t think that because we designed it or because we want it, it is the best and that everyone will want it.
In our case, having stepped forward with a very open mind after listening and taking in all the information, and this you can collect from other people including those who perhaps have much more experience than you do in the field, then you can really start creating something that is really sustainable, because in the end, that is what what we are all looking for.
Latina Republic: Yes, it is good advice to listen to everyone regarding the industry. Finally, what is the history of your business and what are the future ambitions for your business? Will you continue using coconut or another fruit?
Daniel Becerra: Yes. Look, as I shared our story at the beginning, how it all started, certainly Cocotai because of the pandemic issue, the initial business model where we had stands in different high-traffic points, and you could go and choose the smoothie size that you wanted to consume, and add the sweetener that you wanted, in the pandemic, this evidently completely collapsed because the shopping centers and the places where we operated, closed, and let’s say that from then on, we, as a brand had been observing the need to develop a product with characteristics that would support other sales distribution mechanisms on large surfaces.
And what we did was to speed up that process that we had been working on to the maximum so as not to totally lose the company or what we had achieved up to that moment.
Because certainly just when the pandemic hit, I think it was the most successful moment of our company up to that point, and for me, for us, it was like a rebirth. I mean, like it or not, it’s as if we created another company, because of the subject of ice cream, although we had seen it, we had no idea or any experience with the world of ice cream. But as I was saying, this project and all the people who are associated with it, love it and have been very involved and supported us a lot.
And all of this has contributed to Cocotai’s success and where we have arrived. In other words, all these experts, so to speak, each one in their area of expertise, advise us, guide us and have allowed us to develop a very high-quality brand.
If you ask me where I see us, how I see Cocotai in the future, well, we would like to be, and we have always thought of ourselves in this way, the country’s flagship coconut brand.
In other words, when you think of something that has to do with Coco, we would like you to think of us, because that is our philosophy.
All of our products are related to coconut, so we want to develop that concept so that every time you say, I want to buy coconut shampoo or coconut sunscreen, or coconut ice cream or glasses made out of coconut’s wood, you think of Cocotai.
That is the mission or “our north,” that we have. Because we understand that the coconut as a fruit, as a plant, as a tree, is everything. In other words, it is super noble and nothing is wasted. In other words, you can use each and every one of its parts for super sustainable purposes.
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Latina Republic: Yes, that is all. Thank you so much for your time and sharing your business and the industry of coconut to the Dominican Republic.
Daniel Becerra: Thank you so much for the invitation. It was a pleasure.
To learn more, see Coconut Inspires Entrepreneurship in the DR
My name is Gabby Boyd, and I am a first year master’s candidate at Georgetown University studying Latin American Studies with a concentration in Political Economy and Development. My interest in this region of the world stems from a love of culture and politics, and a innate curiosity to learn more about Latin America through my educational and work experiences. During my time at Latina Republic, I am working as a Latin American Correspondent, with a focus on the Andean Cone countries and Caribbean Islands. I am interested in women’s rights, sustainability and the environment, and promoting the rights of children through advocacy. It is incredibly important that these topics are discussed in the realm of Latin America, as the voices of both women and children are crucial to understanding and improving the region on all levels.