Wonders of the coconut
CocoWonder is turning Pinoy coconuts into innovative products fit for the European market.
Eating without guilt
Almost 12 years ago, the doctors made it clear to Leyte-born Andy Albao that he would need to adopt healthier diet options if he was to fully recover from his kidney ailment. With his condition, he switched to an alternative, and healthier, food sweetener: the coco sugar.
Soon, he and his family—including his four children—began using coco sugar for their dietary requirements. However, sourcing affordable coconut sugar was difficult, and this is when Andy’s interest in developing coconut by-products germinated.
At the time, Andy was running a business from Makati supplying industrial spare parts.
Turning a quest into an opportunity
The need and drive towards a healthier lifestyle led to the founding of Andy Albao’s Corporation - CocoWonder in 2011. Andy’s personal interest in using coconut sugar led the company to produce 60 coconut products including coconut jam, coconut chocolate spread and virgin coconut oil.
Today, the entrance of the administrative office premises of CocoWonder in Makati City is adorned with a range of value-added coconut products indicative of the many uses of the fruit.
Award-winning export journey to Europe
Set up with an initial capital of 2.5 million pesos (approximately $135,000 today), CocoWonder began exporting coconut products to Australia after obtaining the FDA certification in the third quarter of 2011.
Initially, the export revenue was approximately $10,000 per year. Today, it stands between $50,000-$60,000 per year with 35 permanent employees providing their services.
The company now exports to all major markets including Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republic in the European Union, where CocoWonder enjoys a good following.
Approximately 40% of CocoWonder’s production is exported to the EU.
The European market holds a special place in Andy’s heart. “European buyers are aware and have the purchasing power. In 2014, we began exporting to Europe as well. We penetrated more markets than others and have been awarded ‘Best SME’ by the Philippine Coconut Association (PCA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) two years in a row, in 2020 and 2021.”
Andy grows coconuts at a rented farm in Quezon, that are processed at his production facility nearby.
All these years, the family has been working hard to achieve excellence with two sons helping their father with accounts and production. With progressive introduction of automation, today approximately 70% of production is mechanised. While business is going well, there are some challenges.
“The war in Ukraine resulted in lower sales, but we continue. Most of the customers in Europe are health conscious and do not compromise on that.”
Andy is hopeful that the situation will improve soon.
Do that which is needed
The Philippines is one of the major producers of coconut sugar in the world. CocoWonder produces coconut sugar that is EU organic certified and compliant with good manufacturing practices (GMP).
In fact, this is one of the first requirements that Andy recalls he had to meet before beginning to export to Europe.
“In 2013, I participated in Anuga Trade Fair held in Germany. Customers did not buy from us because we were not EU organic certified at that time.”
He then set himself the task to correct this quickly.
“In 2015, we applied for organic certification. This opened the doors for us to European buyers.”
Andy worked with the Netherlands-based Control Union Certifications to obtain the required certifications.
Support from government
Andy fondly recalls the support he received from the Centre for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), the export trade promotion arm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Certified endorsement from DTI to participate in the international fairs, renting of appropriate exhibition space, and support with visa requirements has always been useful, according to Andy.
Being a member of the Virgin Coconut Oil Producers and Traders Association of the Philippines (VCO Philippines) was also instrumental for Andy in maintaining a strong connection with the DTI to receive support to participate in international trade fairs. The company also improved its marketing thanks to government support.
He attributes his company’s achievements in the export arena to being actively engaged with DTI to remain on top of the latest developments for Philippine exporters.
Accessing the EU market through the GSP+
The DTI also enabled CocoWonder to register in the EU’s Registered Exporter system (REX system), a system of self-certification of origin for exporters wishing to benefit from the Generalized System of Preference (GSP+).
DTI assisted Andy along with other exporters in taking advantage of the EU-GSP+.
“Availing of the GSP+ has made me more competitive in the European market. Customers don’t need to pay tariffs once we avail of the GSP+. We don’t need to pay for Certificate of Origin every time we make a shipment. Now we just include our REX number in the commercial invoice, and we are sorted.”
As a result, exporting to Europe has become manageable for CocoWonder.
Expanding through ARISE Plus Philippines
With the opportunities available for coconut producers in Europe, Andy responded to the call for application launched under ARISE Plus Philippines for MSMEs in Coconut flour and VCO interested in receiving support on Export Marketing and Market Linkages, including the EU market.
Offered in partnership with the DTI and private sector organizations, the support package is providing CocoWonder and others with comprehensive capacity-building through coaching and training on branding, marketing, and export strategy and planning, as well as preparation for trade fairs, including sales and negotiations. Selected beneficiaries may also benefit from the support to participate in trade fairs and other trade events, including overseas.
The ARISE Plus Philippines project is enabling Philippine exporters to take advantage of European Union (EU) market access and the trade privileges granted under the Generalized System of Preference (GSP+). It supports the overall EU-Philippines trade relationship and trade-related policies.
ARISE Plus Philippines is a project of the Government of the Philippines, with the Department of Trade and Industry as lead partner together with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Customs, the Department of Science and Technology, as well as the private sector. It is funded by the EU with the International Trade Centre (ITC) as the technical agency for the project.