Coconut Water Man
The coconuts were coming into season for the final time that year. It was early November and Imram Goodings sat beside his 1990 Toyota Van listening to the repairman tell him the vehicle needed a rebuilt engine and it would cost him $5,000Bds. Imram was a Rasta man and for six years he had cut and sold coconuts and coconut water alongside the ABC Highway, the main concourse running north and south through Barbados. He had the money in the bank. He was a frugal man and lived simply but now he wondered if he shouldn’t just take it easy for awhile.
Coconuts were so named from the Spanish word “coco” meaning “monkey face,” which can be seen in the three round indented marking on the bottom of the nut. The fruit of the coconut palm is botanically known as cocos nucifera (nut bearing) and is native to South East Asia. In time it transmigrated or drifted across the oceans and eventually propagated itself into the Caribbean region where it is found on virtually all the islands and coastal shores. An average mature palm yields about 60 nuts per growth, four times a year.
The nut contains an opaque juice or water and is taken as a refreshing drink by people in the islands and round the globe. It has a limited shelf life and after cutting, when left in the sun even for a few hours in the coconut itself, it turns mildly sour. After exposure to air it loses most of its organoleptic value. However it is the “very stuff of nature,” filled with natural sugars, salts and vitamins. It is reckoned by some to be the next wave of “natural” energy since it has more potassium than most sports drinks.
The sale of coconut water has been practiced for decades on the islands. Many people enjoyed its nutrition and thirst quenching properties and regularly patronized one vendor or another in the community. With the growth of tourism in the region the vendors quickly took to the main roads and tourist spots to et sup their small stands or to sell directly from their trucks or vans. By some accounts the commerce in these nuts accounts for $ 7 million in Barbados alone and as much as $150 million in the Caribbean.
There are between fifty and one hundred active vendors on Barbados located in Warrens, Collymore Rock, Holetown and near the city of Bridgetown core particularly near the tour ships port for the city. There is virtually no barrier to entry, all that is required is a sharp machete to harvest the product and slash open the nut for those wishing to drink directly from the nut. Most trade is in two litre soda pop bottles that sell for $9 – 10.00 each while the single drink averages $1.50 or more.
The Imram Gooding Enterprise
There are some challenges now emerging in terms of vending operations and they caused Imram Goodings no little discomfort when he reflected on them. The product was very undifferentiated; everyone sold “de water.” Government was looking into the industry, concerned about health and cleanliness issues as well as enforcing licensing, safety along the roads ways, and it was becoming more difficult to compete in buying the coconuts from residents who had the coconut palms growing on their properties. Some of Imram’s sources were happy to have him clean up the nuts and trim their palms. Others were concerned with theft and intrusions. He was not too keen on buying nuts from the few growers in the area who sold them to the vendors for as much as 50 cents apiece.
Imram the vendor typically sold 400 nuts a day, when he worked. He paid an assistant $50.00 cash, purchased plastic bottles from the bottle collection company for thirty to forty dollars and estimated it cost him $30 to $40 a day for his van. On a good day he would take home $500 after expenses.
The tourism industry continued to be a large part of the island’s economy, adding $1.5 billion in foreign exchange in 2003 with 531 thousand long stay visitors and 560 thousand cruise ship passengers, many of whom visited the island. Recently Imram had shared a lazy afternoon with his nephew, who told him about a small paper his sister had written for the university on coconut marketing.
“She said, mon you could take de water and put in some Guinness beer and sell it for five dollars!”
“No way, mon. Who going to drink that.”
“Tourists, man. And she say you mix some vodka with that and that’s another five dollar drink! Or you put the water in a little plastic bag and freeze that and sell it to the school kids for one dollar and you call it “Succa’bag.”
Imram was intrigued by the idea of doing something new. Perhaps he should use some of that marketing method his nephew talked about. But he wasn’t sure.
Is the coconut vending operation one that can be readily commercialized? If so, list the planning steps and expected profitability you would expect from the venture.
Would you involve Imram as a partner?
Write no more than 500 words