Navina Bartlett is the founder of Coconut Chilli, a South Indian inspired cuisine company. Navina is a Virgin Start Up Ambassador and is on a mission to change the food industry.
Tell us about your business?
Coconut Chilli makes Hill station inspired, South Indian cuisine. I spent many a summer at my aunt’s Hill Station coffee estate in Coorg. It’s was here that I fell in love with the local cuisine and discovered an array of flavours, scents and spices that just aren’t used in British foods.
All of the meal pots are served on a bed of basmati rice and garnished with fresh ingredients. It was conceived through sitting on the veranda in Hill Station and coming up with recipes to introduce these incredible ingredients to the world. The ingredients found in Hill Station were just too good to ignore. I started thinking about flavour combinations like black pepper with tender lamb, and have created four tasty meal pots inspired by those very ingredients found in the region.
We started putting together ideas, and my background in marketing has proven helpful in creating a brand. Everything’s been done on a shoe-string budget in the last three years, but slowly, the business has come together.
Do you have any Inspirational Women in your life or business?
I have a fantastic coach in Jenny Harland Khan, who has really helped the company evolve and find direction. She helps women to find and achieve their potential. We were finding it very challenging to scale the business, and was going to cut our losses, but securing a loan from Virgin Start Up’s has proved most helpful. I want to make sure that my company grows, but keeps it’s ethics.
I believe the food industry needs to acknowledge that food is not all about shelf-life, but about the quality and taste of the food. I have huge ambitions for Coconut Chilli to be the brand to change that. Most of the setbacks I’ve had have involved shelf-life, and so I aim to turn manufacturing on it’s head by using innovative shelf life technology and packaging in order to produce on a much larger scale, without compromising on the quality of the product.
Running a business successfully is all about mindset. As a woman, especially, we need to overcome our issues with confidence and self doubt. Surround yourself with people who are going to support you. I had some cautious friends and family, but they soon saw that all I needed was encouragement.
Don’t ever compromise your business idea. Keep your passion for the product; it’s not all a numbers game.
Any setbacks with creating Coconut Chilli?
It’s taken me a long time to feel completely confident in myself and the business, as I’ve been very cautious and measured in my approach. You’ve got to keep plugging on with it and believe in your product no matter what. I’ve had knock-backs, and really had to test the market. I’ve been out in the winter, rain and snow doing consumer testing and selling the lunch pack’s.
Future of the business?
Coconut Chilli is now looking for further investment, to really get the product out there. We’re looking at innovative ways to get shelf life into the product, as currently they are a lunch product. In five years time, I’d love to have my meals on Virgin Atlantic planes in a tray format. This would be a complete first for airlines but business plans are currently being drawn up!