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Goa is popular for its swaying coconut trees and in keeping with promoting the idyllic landscape Vasco based Praful Paunikar, runs a startup unit making extra virgin coconut oil, finds out Diana Fernandes

Local entrepreneur roots for traditional produce

Back in 2016, three youngsters fresh out of college decided to begin their foray into entrepreneurship after attending a training session on mushroom cultivation. What began as a possible future in mushrooms quickly grew into a journey based on curiosity and a dream to do something bigger. But with it came a huge responsibility of research and understanding.

And so on April 26, 2016 after finishing a training course, Praful Paunikar, Yogesh Paunikar and Aulia Carol set out to visit remote villages in the state where they spoke to elders in the hope of understanding the recipe for traditional Goan extra virgin coconut oil and its benefits. What they found was four traditional methods of making the product. Combining traditional wisdom and modern research findings, they developed a unique formula to make their own version of the oil.

To be able to maintain the desired quality, it was critical to get the right type of organic Goan coconuts which for them was a major challenge. “We explored various options for machinery to find the one that suited our method of extraction. It took us more than two years and many experiments to develop the right organic extra virgin oil for our customers,” says Praful.

“It was our endeavor to revive a long-forgotten method of healthy organic oil that kept our ancestors healthy and fit from inside-out. We at Rootree took it further and incorporated the use of the oil for external applications in beauty including hair, body and skin and the feedback from our client’s have been unbelievable,” says Praful brimming with happiness as he says one of their first clients to try the product was a new born baby.

He says that, the coconut manufactured by them has zero preservatives and is growing in popularity. From December 15, 2017 when they first began production and launched their product on a pilot basis, they have till date catered to and delivered 500 litres or 2,000 bottles to customers within a span of just six months, a feat they are very proud of. But the challenges were not few and for an Indian based market that doesn’t have benchmarks, the task to provide quality was even higher. “Many companies tend to market regular coconut oil which is derived from dried coconut as virgin oil which is a deception as extra virgin oil is actually extracted from fresh ripened coconut. It is a fact that is yet to be realized among consumers,” he says.

Initially, capital to start the company was difficult but with Praful borrowing Rs 15 lakhs from his father and substantial funding from EDC, Rootree was up and running. Today, the company has a work force of eight to ten personally trained employees for extracting the oil from start to finish contained in a 200 square meter unit in Vasco.

Though Aulia exited the company, Praful and Yogesh continue to run the administration and operations. They also procure coconuts of a particular variety from farms and personally oversee the entire production cycle.

Creating an authentic, trusted product was also a challenge that led to bottle and product testing. From a list of certifications, the product has received TUV India- Nord Group certification, a highly sought-after Food and Agriculture Laboratory certification as well as a FSSAI license with a few more certifications still in the pipeline.

To help maintain product stability for the most amount of time, the packaging also had to be on point. “If the product is not put in the right kind of bottle, it will affect the properties of the oil. So, we went through 50 different bottles to test which one provided the most stability and finally settled on 250 ml plastic bottle with a spray nozzle,” says Praful. The product name, Rootree also had to go through a verification phase that finally included attaining registered trademark.  Marketing for the company has been majorly on word of mouth and only more recently through social media.

“When we first began, we decided to just approach the right kind of people and our major clientele was new born children because their skins are very tender and virgin coconut oil helps in building immunity. We began using social media only in the last few months and are now accepting orders through our website,” they say.

As for the future, the company is focused on developing premium quality products from tropical Goan coconuts and has many products in the pipeline. They are also on the lookout for investors to take a participatory role rather than just monetary involvement to further their aim of generating employment for locals.

“Our vision is to create a sustainable ecosystem for local producers by supporting and protecting our natural Goan reserves. In addition to producing oil we are working on giving the byproducts back to the villages we procure from for use in handicrafts and small scale units like making coconut shells. Our aim is to make Goa the organic coconut hub of India,” says Praful. Through it all, however, we plan on keeping true to our  promise of quality, he says.


Process of making extra virgin coconut oil

The coconuts procured by the company are fresh and the oil is extracted before it crosses the desired stage. The company is also particular about the method in which the coconut trees are grown and the coconuts are gathered. In its true sense, it believes that the coconut trees should be grown organically and traditional method of coconut extractions using traditional tree pluckers or renders and not step ladders. As for the variety of coconut and method of extraction, the company follows its own proprietary process for the production and is super secretive, calling it its trade secret.

The benefits of extra virgin coconut oil are numerous. The prime difference between it and regular coconut oil is that it is made of fresh coconuts, retains more than 95 per cent of natural properties vis-a-vis 40 per cent for regular coconut oil and is non sticky in texture.

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