There is no denying the fact that coconuts have taken the western world by storm over the past several years. Drinking whole coconuts from their husks has become a common sight from the sandy shore of the local beach to the middle of the downtown CBD. Coconut oil has managed to completely turn its reputation around and is now heralded as a leading health product and beneficial for everything from weight loss to glowing skin to heart health. Therefore it comes as no surprise that coconut yogurt and coconut ice-cream have been just as enthusiastically embraced the world over.
For Henry and Sandra, the team behind COYO, what began as a late night experiment in the kitchen has now become a multinational extraordinaire. It seems that everyone from kids to fitness fanatics to vegans to your run-of-the-mill family is eager to make this dairy, sugar and gluten free yogurt and ice-cream part of their staple diet.
Growing up in Fiji, Henry lived on coconuts throughout his childhood and adolescence, but of course like many cultures who thrive on local coconut products, he was not aware at the time of their unique and rather astounding health benefits. His idea for coconut yogurt came about many years later when, living a quiet semi-retired life with his wife Sandra, an idea in the kitchen on a sleepless night almost instantly transformed a late night snack into a nation-wide phenomenon.
“It wasn’t about making something that specifically marketed the health benefits of coconuts.” Henry explains, “For me, it was more about having fun with coconuts. We are a couple of foodies, we love our food! We found out most of the nutritional benefits after we had created the product!”
“We wanted a product that was good for you, but we were adamant that it had to taste delicious.” Therefore the couples demographic wasn’t limited to those who necessarily couldn’t eat dairy or sugar or the other harmful ingredients in regular yogurt. They wanted a product that appealed to everyone “It wasn’t about creating something for those who had to seek alternatives, it was for those who wanted to.
Nevertheless, Sandra did come to discover the benefits of coconut in more depth after a journey with her own health. Suffering from asthma and eczema she originally believed her troubles stemmed from respiratory issues. “Studying naturopathy in the 70’s was a little like studying witchcraft,” Sandra laughs, “but I soon came to realize that my health problems were not respiratory related, they were digestive.” Sandra went on to study the way chemicals and additives in food affect the body, and also learned about the importance of probiotics and fermented foods in the diet.
With Henry’s passion for coconuts and Sandra’s knowledge of health, they developed COYO – a coconut yogurt that was free from dairy, sugar, gluten, additives and preservatives and rich in healthy fats and probiotic cultures.
Sampling their product to family and friends they were quickly encouraged to take the coconut yogurt to market. “I took a sample to my yoga class who described the yogurt as ‘Heaven in a mouthful!’” Sandra recalls, “So I took some down to my local health food store where the owner informed me he had been waiting for a product just like this to appear!”
From that moment on, Henry and Sandra were caught up in a ‘crazy whirlwind’ of energy where the demand continued to grow. “We were semi retired,” laughs Sandra, “ It certainly took us by surprise.” Outgrowing their capacity every 12 months, the company moved to a new factory in Yandina which was capable of handling the rapid expansion and allowed room for more experimentation and an increasing number of flavours and varieties with the yogurt.
It was Henry and Sandra’s son that pushed for the idea of coconut ice-cream and sent Henry back to the kitchen to play. What began as one flavour soon expanded to three and then eight and soon to be ten!
“We were very lucky,” Henry states modestly, “we were just there at the right time and had a passionate team behind us.” Indeed, when COYO began they were the only coconut yogurt on the market. Since then, a few other companies have jumped on the bandwagon to offer a coconut yogurt, but Henry explains they are all still dairy companies that are offering a coconut alternative, “What sets us apart is that we only deal with coconuts, I don’t mind having other competition, as long as they keep the integrity of the product.”
Integrity is something that is exceptionally important to Henry and Sandra. They use coconuts from an island in Indonesia where the coconuts are harvested by hand and are entirely natural, without any chemicals or sprays. They also use stevia or coconut nectar to sweeten their products because they are acutely aware of the problem with refined sugar in the modern diet. More and more they have learned along the way the vast and wide health benefits of coconuts and the positive effect they have on the human body, “Coconuts are high in laureic acid,” Sandra explains, “and laureic acid is only found in high concentrations in coconut water and breast milk – they are both very rich in nutrients and very healing for the human body.”
Henry and Sandra have also learned through their journey with COYO just how many people are indeed allergic or intolerant to dairy. “Every day we hear from people who can not tolerate dairy, and so many of them are children,” Sandra explains, “It makes you wonder exactly what has happened over the years to our food chain as we become further separated from the processing of our food and less aware of what is being added to it.”
When asked if they both still enjoy their coconut products Henry and Sandra laugh in unison, “Indeed we do! Its hard to go a night without a few teaspoons of sticky date ice-cream,” Sandra admits and there is a tangible joy to her words. They sound like children in a candy store as they speak of the special 2 kg bucket they keep in the fridge of coconut yogurt that doesn’t last very long at all.
“We make sauces and dressings with the yogurt too- there is a lot of savoury options you can create with the natural flavour.” The recipe section of the COYO website includes some of their savoury dressings and dips to try while the COYO social media pages are overflowing with people who have tagged their own sweet creations utilising the COYO products, “It is delightful and inspiring to see how other people are enjoying our products,” Sandra exclaims.
COYO hasn’t been contained to the shores of Australia either, already with plants set up and operating in the UK, USA and New Zealand, this coconut empire continues to expand and gain popularity as a global brand. Henry and Sandra have also won a host of awards for their products including coming in first at the annual Food Magazine Awards three years in a row for the Most Innovative Product, as well as winning the Best of the Best category in 2012 and 2013.
With a couple of new products set to launch later in the year, this is one business that is worth keeping your eyes (and tastebuds) on.
Look out for COYO yogurt and ice-cream at all major health food stores.
To look a little deeper into the health benefits of coconut, and for a delicious recipe using COYO coconut yogurt, follow the link to Bella and Bhakti here…www.bellaandbhakti.com/key-lime-and-coconut-yogurt-parfait