Growing virgin coconut oil industry with passion
Compiled By RACHNA LAL
Welcome to Hard Talk, where we pose questions to both top executives and
budding entrepreneurs on some of the major issues involving business.
In 1999, Jim Bandy, the managing director of ALSO Island Limited, which
operates in the North, set sail from USA to sail around the world on his
This was when Mr Bandy stumbled across Fiji. He has since made Fiji his
home. Today Mr Bandy is a proud Fijian.
Mr Bandy said: “We were not looking for a place to settle. It just happened. We were presented with an opportunity to make a contribution in Udu, to
make a difference with people who needed help and we took it.
“I have given it my best effort and it has been, for the most part, quite
ALSO Island Limited holds three business certificates.
They build and repair boats, press virgin coconut oil (VCO), and also have
rooms for backpackers.
But the business which stands out is the production of virgin coconut oil
which not only benefits the company, but also the community.
Island Virgin Coconut Oil buys coconuts from the local community, and also
provides employment to these people.
Questions for Jim Bandy, managing director of ALSO Island Limited,
and Island Virgin Coconut Oil Limited:
1. What unrealised potential do you believe lies in virgin coconut Industry
oil in Fiji?
I believe that virgin coconut oil can provide many small growers and
producers with the ability to have an income from coconut.
2. How can Fiji benefit from this industry on an economic scale?
Fiji is already benefiting from VCO. There are some people marketing coconut
oil and VCO. Please note I define two oils and there is a major difference
between the two. Copra oil is not fit for human consumption without further
refining. That refining removes many of the health benefits of un-refined
For Fiji to realise the full benefits of VCO we must establish a reputation
for producing the very highest quality VCO and make sure we differentiate
between VCO and coconut oil made from copra or even oil made using improper
Fiji will never be able to compete with the Philippines or Indonesia because
of their volume and labor costs. So Fiji has to promote a quality reputation
and the Fiji Tall coconut.
The Fiji Tall coconut has desirable chemical properties that other coconuts
do not have. We need to unify around these issues and build a reputation
nationally for the Highest Quality Virgin Coconut Oil that contains all of
the natural benefits of VCO with no chemical refining or preservatives after
The real benefit, economically, will come from taking the processing to
where the coconuts are and thereby allowing more of the proceeds to be kept
with the growers and producers; not transportation and middle men.
3. Coconut is also found in other countries. What sets coconuts in Fiji
apart from the rest?
The Fiji Tall Coconut Tree is the first thing that sets us apart. The fact
that we have largely or completely organically grown coconut plantations is
The story of our growers and their efforts is important. We need to develop
integrity in our product. The Fiji Tall coconut trees organically grown, far
from pollution is very important. High Quality VCO needs to become our trade
4. What should be done to make this industry more economically-viable?
We have to produce enough VCO of the Highest Quality on a consistent basis
to be able to satisfy a buyer or buyers.
We also need to market our products on the internet through a retail
operation; promoting our organic environment and High Quality. We need to
develop and promote standards for processing and Quality. ALSO Island, Jim
Bandy, is working on both of these issues. All of this will provide jobs and
5. What are some challenges you face with your operations?
First, and foremost is help! I find it difficult to find reliable,
trustworthy, responsible and accountable help.
Second, is finances. We, my wife and I, are just two retired people living
on a small retirement income. We did not come to Fiji to do business; we
were on a world cruise, and most people would say we are in way over our
over our heads financially.
But we are doing something beneficial, even with our limited assets.
Transportation and communications are a constant challenge in Fiji. Poor
Telephone service, no internet and poor roads in our area really holds us
6. How can Government assist?
I am not big on Government help but, helping those of us already involved
with attempting to create the VCO industry would be a place to start.
Addressing the challenges mentioned above would be good for everyone. The
planting initiative is good. Many of the plantations are quite old.
Engaging our foreign offices to help us to find markets could be of great
help. I think government is trying to assist. Fiji has limited financial
resources and we need to use them wisely without corruption. There is so
much un-realised potential in Fiji. It makes me cry to see that potential go
7. What do you think of Government’s plant a million tree initiative?
I really am not well enough informed to say it is necessary. My
understanding is that many if not most coconut plantations are quite old.
So... if we are going to restore the coconut industry new trees or
plantations are necessary.
A senile tree does not produce nuts in good numbers and there is evidence
that coconut nuts from these trees do not produce as good VCO as a tree in
its prime. I believe that many of the trees need to be replaced.
My understanding is that a Fiji Tall should be replaced after 75 or 80 years
to maintain the best production. Coconut is important to Fiji and new ways
to market it are being found, VCO for one should tell us we should plant new
trees to maintain our resource. If not it goes away.
8. You came to Fiji upon retirement. What has attracted you to remain in
Fiji after so many years?
As I mentioned I wanted to sail around the world on my own boat. We arrived
in Fiji in 2002 and found their village boat broken. I decided I wanted to
see it run again so I purchased and installed another engine and got it
running. That had a major impact on the community.
Seeing the benefits accomplished by that made me feel good. With the boat
running, other opportunities became obvious. Kyoko and I did things that
needed to be done and we could afford. Our rewards were seeing people seize
opportunities and try to better themselves.
The more we did the more there seemed to be done.
I was raised to believe I
was to do something important and I believe what I am doing is important. I
believe when one discovers their “mission” one should pursue it with vigor.
That will bring rewards of the heart and soul that you cannot find
The more I do, the more there is to do, so . . . I am still here.
9. What would you say about the international demand for virgin coconut oil?
As I see on the internet and by the research being done, the VCO market is
just opening. I think there is a growing demand for High Quality VCO,
I am concerned that we need to protect a High Quality reputation so that
maximum health benefits are obtained. That is necessary to keep the market
growing and carve out a niche market for ourselves.