My name is Jeff and come from a somewhat more unusual background for a person who starts a company like Natural Abundance than you might think. I could always cook better than most but had no particular interest in food. Fitness was my thing rather than food.
I worked in Thailand in the 1980’s with the UN managing the education system in one of the large Cambodian Refugee Camps. Hence the wider exposure to coconut and all things Thai.
Fast forward to 2011 I thought I would take my children (12 & 14) on a holiday to Thailand/Cambodia to show them where I lived. They had their eyes opened to another world, I got to brush up on my Thai and I had the thought that I should look at importing some coconut products and set up a website. Making money should be easy I figured. I was paying $30 a 500ml jar for coconut oil at the time.
And I could holiday in Thailand every year as a legitimate company expense.
So, I imported a pallet of coconut oil from Thailand. And one from Sri Lanka. And five pallets from Philippines. Plus a ton of coconut milk powder. Two ton of coconut sugar from Indonesia. And not to be outdone, on a hunch had some high-fat desiccated coconut milled to my specification and imported a couple of tons.
I very quickly found out my logic about there being a good margin in coconut oil was correct because the number of brands on the shelf went from about two to twenty; and price went into free-fall.
Then the Sales 101 lesson (keeping in mind I had never bought and sold anything in my life) kicked in, ‘it is far easier to buy things than it is to sell them’.
Pallets of coconut oil. Tons of coconut culinary flour. Tons of coconut sugar. So what’s a Paleo man to do?
The answer was to make a cake. It was a Banana Cake of all things. Mainly because that is the only cake I had ever made in my life. And the cake was in response to a negative to my pitch for the high fat coconut culinary flour at the old East West Organics. The then manager Romi Curl summed it up when she said we like it but it’s too hard to cook with. Which traditional coconut flour is.
I went away, baked the banana cake, took it back to the store and said try this. And the feedback came, quote-unquote, ‘you should stop selling flour and start making cakes’ which is what happened.
Which essentially is what happened.
I had a friend encouraging me. Nicki McKinnon a Naturopath. She kept telling me that I should make a Brownie and gave me a recipe. And from that recipe I made the Extreme Chocolate Kumara Cake. Which people really raved about. Making the cake actually turned out to be the simple thing. My first efforts of trying to slice it and get it into a bag literally had me in tears. The Chocolate Slaughterhouse were the words that constantly came to mind. And because we didn’t have a sealer that was done with the iron on an ironing board.
The next step was to sell the cake and I talked to Neil at Naturally Organic (at the old Rosedale shop) who took 24 slices on the Wednesday before Easter of 2014. On the Tuesday after Easter the shop rang and they had sold the 24 slices and wanted another 24. Which they sold in a week and then wanted 36.
And during this time I had finally confessed to my friend Nicki that I didn’t know what a Brownie was and could she explain. And armed with that knowledge I developed the Blueberry Flavour and then the Ultimate Gluten Free Brownie.
The numbers kept growing. Naturally Organic opened a new store. The orders were getting up to 150 plus cakes at a time. We didn’t have a kitchen. We were renting kitchens and it became obvious that without a dedicated kitchen continuing was not possible.
We leased a food grade building and started kitting it out as a commercial kitchen. On the basis of selling 100 cakes and brownies a week! One of the primary reasons I have never made it back to Thailand for that holiday.
Right. We had the cake and a 150 square metre kitchen. And had come down off the cloud and had some time to do a bit of the maths. Which weren’t looking that flash. The equation of how many slices of cake it takes to make a million dollars gets less attractive when you have discovered the reality of how many cakes you would have to back-ice-slice-pack.
On cue another person in East West Organics (the source of all inspiration) said, while dragging me over to the appropriate display counter, ‘you should do raw’!! Pointing to some packets and making observations about lack of variety and choice. Raw!! Raw!!
And kind of like with the brownie, I really didn’t think I should blurt out up-front that I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, so I kind of shuffled around and mumbled and said, mmmm, yeah, suppose we should really.
When in doubt, Google. RAW. Got the basics from that. Everybody doing RAW seemed to be making Graham Crackers and Flax Crackers but it kind of gave me the basics. Next step Trade Me to get a $150 dehydrator.
A week later we had the Raw Almond &Flax Crackers. And the first batch just happened to be ready on a Saturday. And we just happened to have some kumara and onion roasted in coconut oil left over from Friday night dinner. So why not do the obvious and tart up the cracker with some toppings. Which tasted sensational.
Then came the lightbulb moment of blending some roast kumara and onion into the crackers. Which became the next batch. They couldn’t be called RAW because we cooked the vegetables, so they became Paleo Crackers: Almond, Flax & Kumara.
They are exactly the same recipe today.
And they are the NZ Artisan Food Awards 2018 Supreme Overall Winner.
Gazing into the crystal ball.
Supermarkets for the Paleo Crackers: Almond, Flax & Kumara
Paleo Slices and a shake-up of the cake menu.
Oh, and make some money.