Brooklyn-based Cocoburg announced yesterday it has closed a private funding round of roughly $500,000 for its coconut jerky brand. The round was led by Noroc Naturals and follows two small seed rounds, one in 2016 and one in 2017.
The idea for the company, which sells different flavors of vegan coconut jerky, came to founder Seth Syberg around 2010, when he was making his own coconut jerky as an addition to his vegan diet. After recipe testing and bringing an initial product to market, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 that got enough backing to exceed its $10,000 goal.
Coconut jerky is made by seasoning and then dehydrating the meat of young coconuts, resulting in a chewy snack that, for Cocoburg, comes in flavors like ginger teriyaki or chili lime. But coconuts aren’t cheap, and nor is running any kind of kitchen out of Brooklyn. “When I first started the business in 2014, I ran a small kitchen in Bushwick,” Syberg told me over the phone. “It became clear very quickly and there would be no way to make that financially feasible.”
His solution was to get on a plane and head to Southeast Asia, the main hub for coconut sourcing. After researching the market, Syberg decided to move production to that region. Now, Cocoburg uses the young meat from coconuts discarded by CPGs during the process of making coconut water, and has partnerships with a number of different parties in Thailand and the Philippines — its main sources for the coconuts.
Reasons for keeping production close to the source are both ethical and economical for Cocoburg. “[It] gives us the opportunity to spread the wealth,” Syberg explained. These are countries, he noted, where jobs are lacking and the economy is weaker than in, say, the U.S. “We really believe in the value-added parts of production in the countries of origin.”
And from a financial perspective, not shipping whole coconuts to the U.S. for production saves enormous amounts of money. Syberg didn’t name actual figures, but anyone who has bought a couple coconuts at the store and walked them home knows how quickly the weight adds up. Finished jerky, on the other hand, is a lot lighter and cheaper to ship. Syberg also mentioned the company cuts its carbon footprint by a quarter by moving the final product across the ocean, rather than the whole coconut.
Stateside, where it sells its products, Cocoburg’s goal is not necessarily to attract hardcore vegans. Instead, they market to consumers wanting to add plant-based, natural products to their diets to improve overall health. And there’s certainly a promising market for that demographic.
Cocoburg also joins a growing number of companies turning would-be food waste into edibles. As my colleague Catherine Lamb discovered recently at the Winter Fancy Food Show, plenty of companies are upcycling surplus food into new products: for example, Render combines leftover quinoa with nuts and seeds to make a crunchy snack, and San Diego-based startup Soulmuch combines leftover quinoa and rice with juice pulp to make cookies.
Cocoburg has had products on the market since 2014 and currently sells to about 200 Whole Foods stores across the country, an additional 200 to 250 independent stores, and many online markets. But the company has many more ingredients besides coconuts on its horizon, and they’ll be used to make products other than jerky. Matcha, tumeric, and mushrooms are all slated to become snacks in the next year. In fact, this expansion of products is part of a forthcoming rebrand Cocoburg will soon launch. While few details are yet public, Syberg told me the rebrand is slated for the second quarter of 2019. Cocoburg will also expand its current lineup of coconut jerky products to new markets over the next six months.