This interview was made possible by our friends at Guidant Financial:
The leader in alternative startup, franchise and small business financing.
Erin Meagher is the founder and ‘Chief Coconut’ of Kelapo™ Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. Prior to creating Kelapo, Erin was a high school business teacher with a passion for motivating students to pursue entrepreneurship. While still teaching, Erin learned about organic coconut oil from a friend. Impressed by its taste and versatility she quickly fell in love with the tropical delight and decided to become its official advocate.
Since opening for business, Kelapo has focused on providing the market’s highest quality extra virgin coconut oil. Each of their products is a direct reflection of our commitment to wholesome, sustainable living.
MO: Where does your passion for coconut oil come from? Can you talk about the journey from discovering coconut oil to basing your entire business around it?
Erin: My real passion started for coconut oil when I read about the health benefits associated with it. There was an article in the newspaper about a doctor whose husband had Alzheimer’s. She started giving him coconut oil in his oatmeal in the morning and his memory seemed to start to get better. It was patient accounts of using coconut oil that made me start to pay attention. Why is everyone still using butter? Then I researched the market and found that no one was loving coconut oil in the way that I knew we could. We found the best quality coconut oil and brought it to market with transparency of the source and quality standards.
MO: What are some of the benefits of using coconut oil?
Erin: Do you know everything that you can do with coconut oil? The options are endless! Cooking, baking, and sautéing are just the beginning. You can also use it for cuts, burns, dry skin, and to remove make-up. My favorite foods to make with coconut oil are oatmeal, grilled cheese, and sautéed vegetables. We get a lot of people that say they fry eggs, spread it on toast, or make energy smoothies with coconut oil.
MO: Coconut oil isn’t a product that I am all too familiar with. How much of your business plan has involved educating the public on the use of your product?
Erin: At Kelapo, all we do is coconut oil. We are the focused brand and pushing the education movement on coconut oil. We understand that people may not want to try a product that is solid white at room temperature. (It kind of looks like Crisco but is completely different!) There was also a negative assumption about tropical oils and most people were told to stay away from them because of their fat content. We have an uphill battle to educate people that the plant-based saturated fats behave differently in your body than animal-based saturated fats, like butter. We do this through our daily food blog, www.WeAreCoconuts.com, and also with the help of the media, appearing on tv and radio shows. You can also find me speaking to culinary schools, baking conventions, and at industry events to help broaden the awareness of cooking with coconut oil.
MO: What is one mistake you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
Erin: I don’t think I have one big uh-oh moment of that was stupid but many little learning experiences. All businesses are so different so it’s hard to warn someone else of impending doom. I would just say that if you haven’t started a business or are in the thick of it now and need some inspiration, that it’s harder than you think and you have to stick with it. You’re on the road less traveled and that road isn’t as paved. It has more bumps, dips, twists, and turns. But you have to see it through. We’ve personally gone through a revamped website, new logo and branding, useless, costly trade shows and more all on our path to success. And we’re still not there but we’re working on it. The accomplishment of having Kelapo in every store across the country will be what makes it all worth it.
MO: What inspired you to use an elephant as your company mascot?
Erin: The majority of coconut oil is sourced from the South Pacific, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Thailand, India. The elephant is a worshipped, symbolic creature in those cultures. We wanted something that was more authentic to where we get our coconut oil from. Did you know that elephants can remember their own loved ones, even after 25 years of being separated? They have extreme memories and strong familial ties. Packs of elephants led by an alpha female are called herds. And symbols of elephants with their trunks raised are considered good luck. As a female run company, which is dedicated to health and wellness of the families we serve, the elephant was a perfect fit for Kelapo.
MO: Before you started Kelapo you taught high school students about entrepreneurship. After launching and running your own successful business, is there anything you would alter in your lesson plan if you had to go back and teach again?
Erin: I can’t even remember what I taught! That was years ago now. I think that if I were to go back into the classroom now, I would try and give the students more real life lessons of other entrepreneurs for them to learn from. All of my own schooling and college education on business didn’t fully prepare me for what I deal with every day. But it is important to have a strong background in finance. I would encourage students to take more accounting classes and business finance classes because you have to be able to financially understand how your business works.