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Little Island starts exports to Aust, US

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 17/08/2016

Kiwi food and beverage company Little Island Coconut Creamery is moving into exports of coconut milk, kicking off in Australia and then expanding into California early next year to take advantage of a global trend to plant-based food.

Tommy Holden and James Crow started the Auckland-based company in 2010 making dairy-free, coconut cream-based NiceBlocks and ice-cream, and added coconut milk stored in the supermarket chiller last year.

It has now partnered with Samoan coconut cream producer Ah Liki for supply.

Coconut milk now comprises half of the startup's $3.2 million in annual revenue and Mr Crow says it's focusing first on long-life milk exports as an everyday consumer staple rather than the ice-creams, which are more seasonal and attract lower margins offshore.

He's forecasting revenue to rise to $5.2m in the 2017 financial year from Australian exports while US revenues should kick in the following year.

Tasting panels the startup has just completed showed American consumers preferred Little Island over existing coconut milk products, giving it the confidence to move into the market early next year.

Plant-based food globally is undergoing what Mr Crow called a "start up boom". Earlier this year Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent Alphabet, picked plant-based protein as one of six hot global trends.

Marmont Capital, a private capital fund set up to invest in Kiwi food and beverage start-ups, has become Little Island's largest shareholder, one of only two investments it has made in the past two years.

Marmont co-founder Matt McKendry, who is also on the board, says the coconut brand is a small business facing a big global food trend.

"There are not too many similar opportunities in New Zealand with such a core value proposition," he said.

In New Zealand, Little Island's "enemy was dairy" and trying to convert people from cow milk to plant-based food, but that shift was already well-established in the US and its "enemy will become almond", Mr McKendry said.

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