Could you tell us a bit about what Coco & Lucas does? Please give a brief description of your company.
At Coco & Lucas, we are led by a passion for food, family, and doing things a little differently!
With 30 years experience in food development and manufacturing, we’ve established ourselves as one of Australia’s leading innovative food companies and leaders of plant-based meat alternatives foods.
We are continuously investing in research and development in ground-breaking new products and innovations perfecting the taste, texture and smell of plant-based proteins to make it a viable meat alternative.
Could you describe your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I am a Vietnamese immigrant who migrated to Australia from a refugee camp in Indonesia. I arrived in Australia with my family when I was 8.5 years old, with no money and not speaking a word of English. There were 15 of us living in poverty in a three-bedroom home in Sydney. We didn’t have much back then, but we had each other and we loved to eat and cook. So some of my fondest memories are growing up with lots of laughs and sharing delicious family meals.
This is the origin of my vision and mission in life to work in food and all about feeding people – it makes me truly happy and is what has driven me my whole life.
In 2009, my husband Werner and I founded Berger Ingredients with a focus on doing things a little differently. Our vision was to provide healthier, natural food ingredients to service our clients needs. Taking these same principles, in 2016 I was inspired by my daughter Coco (a fussy eater) and my nephew Lucas (who had allergies to certain foods such as lactose and gluten) to create my own food brand: Coco & Lucas’ Kitchen.
I started by making ready meals for children, having identified a gap in the market, and coined the term “junior foodies” (aged 3 to 12 years old). I created a whole new innovation category: healthy, hand-made, nutritious meals to help busy parents like myself that they could trust to feed to their children. I quickly leveraged this confidence and trust in my brand to introduce further new innovations to fill other market gaps in the healthy, sustainable, and plant-based meat spaces.
Coco & Lucas is now featured in 970+ supermarkets across Australia and exporting overseas. We continue to dream bigger and bigger.
The beating heart of our inspiration is my family, who have taught me to listen, to learn, and to always lend a helping hand to those who need it most.
Why did you apply to the Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka program?
Coco & Lucas is now successfully stocked in over 40% of Australia retail markets over the last 4 years. We are now at a stage to expand into export markets.
We have identified Japan as the leading partner to enter into Asian markets because of its reputation of high quality, health and sustainability.
Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka program presented us an amazing opportunity to network, learn, educate ourselves and allowed us to be immersed in Japanese cultural traditions and understand how to do business in Japan.
How is Coco & Lucas working to build smart cities/smart living?
With growing populations and diminishing resources, the future of how we feed our people will become more important than ever!
As the daughter of a butcher, my ideology for my business changed after I attended an Australia meat certification course for my business in 2019. After learning about the environmental impact of meat agriculture, I decided to change my business model and launched ‘Earth’–a plant-based ready-to-eat range featuring vegan friendly alternatives of familiar family favourites such as spaghetti and lasagne–that offer optimal nutrition with a fraction of the environmental impact while not compromising on taste. Ultimately better for you and better for the planet. With nine billion people and growing populations something has to change!
And this is our contribution for a more sustainable future.
How have you found the experience of going through the program? Are there any challenges in collaboration with large companies?
The program has been very rewarding with the wealth of knowledge and expertise shared by the mentors and SBC team. As an entrepreneur it has given me the opportunity to gain a better understanding of how to do business in Japan through the amazing sessions put together by the SBC team with amazing industry experts who have experience working in Japan and with large companies.
In terms of challenges in collaborating with large companies, for me it would have been around building trust in a short period of time. With the pandemic it has added an extra challenge where I have not been able to meet with my collaborators to gain their trust in what I am doing and vice versa. I believe the program helps bridge this challenge through the reputable partners we have met in the short time frame and qualifying process, but ultimately I think more time would help us nurture and build stronger relationships.
What was the most significant lesson learned during the program?
The program provided Coco & Lucas insight into the Japanese consumer market and their receptibility to our plant-based foods. Through the process we were able to test our concept to understand if our product was market-ready.
Through our proof of concept we were able to understand the vegan, vegetarian and organic eater market by gathering feedback from relevant industry players through various tasting sessions.
Based on these findings, our initial analysis is that we may not be in the stage of importing the products ‘as-is’ for Japan entry and may need to consider tailoring and developing products from scratch for the Japanese market.
This is invaluable and significant market research and data we were able to validate through the program.
Through this experience and collaboration with mentors and partners, we gained a greater understanding of how Japanese people culturally do business and also first-hand knowledge through requirements of Japan; from exporting and importing regulations to the difference of the standard microwave wattage in most Japanese households and offices for our cooking instructions. There have been so many great lessons you will pick up along this journey.
What are you looking for to make your next steps?
In order for us to successfully enter the Japanese market we would look to manufacture our products locally.
Our ideal Japanese partner will have strengths and knowledge of manufacturing, distribution, marketing and sales locally. Paired with Coco and Lucas’ research and development, unique innovation, technology and award-winning designs to create a synergised partnership
We’re looking for the right partner to share our vision:
- To invest into Coco & Lucas to launch into Japan and other markets globally
- To invest into continuous leading research and development in plant- based food
- To enable us to license our IP to a local manufacturer under the Coco & Lucas brand for chilled products
- To enable us to sell Coco & Lucas branded products made in Japan to food retailers