Coconut oil is a successful business for this entrepreneur gsa 2016 pay scale


Her products are in 6,000 stores in the United States and Canada. She has gone from knocking on doors of local independent grocers, with homemade coconut oil brownies and a case of Kelapo, sweetly pleading with them to buy some products, to a presence in the aisles of major retailers: Whole Foods, the Fresh Market, Meijer in the Midwest, H-E-B in Texas, King Soopers out of Colorado.

After graduating from East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs and North Carolina State University, Meagher got a job as a business teacher at Osceola High School in Largo. She taught several subjects: accounting, public speaking and entrepreneurship.

But do what exactly? Meagher didn’t feel pulled toward any specific product or business. Then she read a story published in 2008 in the Tampa Bay Times about Dr. Mary Newport, a Spring Hill neonatologist who used coconut oil in an effort to try to slow the progression of her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease. Newport reported significant improvements.

She researched and was stunned. Though the benefits of coconut oil are debated among experts, proponents of it are passionate. Extra-virgin coconut oil — meaning it is in a natural state, not mixed with other potentially unhealthy substances — has been touted to increase metabolism, provide energy and help with weight loss. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is also found in breast milk. Some experts say coconut oil boosts brain function, immune systems, helps regulate sugar levels and lowers cholesterol. When used topically, it’s said to treat bug bites, scrapes and acne. People use it as a body lotion, face moisturizer and as a hair serum. Pregnant women use it to ward off stretch marks.

She quit her job, borrowed money and spent eight months researching from the home she shared with her boyfriend on Harbour Island in Tampa. She scoured trade data, learning who imported and produced coconut-related products. She tested coconut oil on herself, wearing it, tasting it straight from the jar, stirring it into her oatmeal, spreading it on crackers. She wanted her oil to be the highest grade possible, organic and fair trade, meaning the workers producing the products are treated well and compensated fairly. She discovered a company called Serendipol, which was founded in 2005 by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and worked with coconut farmers in Sri Lanka. Meagher hopped on a plane to California to meet some of the employees at a convention. She loved their company and the high-quality, food-grade oil they produced for her.

Next she had to figure out how to get it to the United States. She wanted to have it packaged in Florida, but needed an organic facility to keep her certification. She found one in California. Then she had to figure out jars, labels. A brand design. And the name, which she struggled with before settling on Kelapo, a loose translation of "coconut tree" in the Malay language.

She was persistent, wooing with chocolate pumpkin bread and pound cake. One by one, she persuaded stores to buy her products: Chuck’s Natural Food Marketplace, Village Health Market, Rollin’ Oats, Nutrition S’Mart, Abby’s Health & Nutrition, Richard’s Foodporium. She added products in addition to various sizes of jars — baking sticks, travel packs, vegetarian soft gels, soy-free cooking spray.

She said yes to all public speaking engagements, at culinary schools, on the radio, anywhere she could talk about coconut oil. She wants her business to succeed, but she also believes her role is to teach people about the oil’s benefits and to get them using it, wherever they buy it.

Bit by bit, the business grew, along with the coconut industry itself. Meagher got into the business at the cusp of a craze that does not yet appear to be slowing. From 2010 to 2011, the price of raw oil doubled, Meagher said. Coconut oil has been growing at more than 70 percent annually, according to SPINS, a data information provider of natural, organic and specialty products.

Last year, Meagher met a representative with KeHE, a national distributor, at a convention. Her persistence with that rep led to a meeting with Maria Reyes, a KeHE director. Reyes liked Meagher’s story, product, presence and the fact that she is a female business owner. Reyes signed her on, and asked for KeHE to be Kelapo’s exclusive distributor for a year.

She has a half-dozen employees and an office near the airport. One day, she hopes to have the packaging facility in Tampa, along with a store, creating a place where people could come for tours and samples. She envisions publishing a cookbook, even though she often finds herself not being able to eat dinner until 10:30 at night, after working and exercising.