Food Entrepreneur DURHAM, NC. —  Kokada, a brand of coconut-based spreads, is gearing up for a national launch at Sprouts Farmers Market stores this spring.

The recipes are simple, with seven or fewer ingredients. Entering a crowded category with a new-to-market offering? Not so much, said co-founders Breanna Atkinson and Jared Golestani.

“We’ve got to be creative in the store but, just as importantly, outside of the store as well, to bring Kokada to more people,” said Mr. Golestani, chief operating officer. “Because it’s a new product, they don’t know that they need it; they don’t know that they want it. We have to introduce it to them.”

A nut-free spin on almond or cashew butter, the spread may be slathered on toast, blended in a smoothie, stirred into coffee, added to baking recipes or melted on top of ice cream, according to the company. Formulations contain coconut and carrageenan, a thickener derived from red seaweed, in addition to coconut treacle, a sap from coconut palms prepared using traditional Sri Lankan techniques. Flavors include original, brownie, cinnamon toast, mint chocolate and brownie crunch.   

Ms. Atkinson created the initial offering several years ago as a snack she could share with fellow competitors on the Jamaican women’s volleyball team. Former varsity athletes at Duke University and business consultants (and now nearly newlyweds), the pair began peddling the pantry staple at a farmers market during the pandemic.

“The origin of that is it tasted like a Jamaican candy … and I knew it was something we should sell,” said Ms. Atkinson, chief executive officer. “Jared, who was living with me at the time, loved our final recipe, which is still our recipe today, but he hates coconut… That was kind of a lightbulb moment.”

Favorable reactions from farmers market shoppers prompted the founders to begin selling the spreads to corner stores and co-operatives in the Durham area, an experience Ms. Atkinson described as “trial and error.” Participation in the Target Forward Founders accelerator program further helped Ms. Atkinson and Mr. Golestani hone the brand’s retail strategy, which they said involves “very heavy demoing and any inventive way to get a sample in somebody’s mouth.”

As the couple gained a greater grasp of the retail marketplace, partnering with contract manufacturers stateside and in Sri Lanka marked the next stage for the brand.

“We do finished good manufacturing in both locations, just to make sure we have a redundancy in our supply chain as we scale up,” Mr. Golestani said.

The company donates a portion of sales to ensure fair, living wages and opportunities for suppliers in Sri Lanka.

“We were trying to purposefully build a product that can resonate with American consumers but that was really deeply tied to Sri Lanka because that’s where all of our ingredients are coming from,” Ms. Atkinson said.

Over the past two years, Kokada has gained distribution in scores of specialty outlets around the country. The addition of Sprouts nearly triples the brand’s footprint.

“We’re happy we were forced to slow down because now we’re really excited to scale nationally and know what we need to do versus learning by fire at this stage,” Ms. Atkinson said. “I think the next six months to a year is going to look really different for Kokada.” 

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