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Plant-based and Plastic-Free Hawaiian Coconut Yogurt

Koko Kai Yogurt was one of PlanIt's very first clients. By request, we offered services and performed tasks that were entirely different from our norm, thus helping us to expand to where we are now! For this reason, we have been so invested in their growth and their story- plus we just love the owners!

kokokai focuses on sustainability and community

The story behind Hawaii's only locally made yogurt

Aline, who has had 15 years of being a chef, is the momma of Koko Kai Coconut Yogurt. Over the years, she witnessed a significant surge in food intolerances. It became clear to her that there must be a direct correlation between the increase in processed and unhealthy ingredients and the rise of these intolerances. Simultaneously, she noticed that the market had started to shift with the growing demand for plant-based options. While plant-based alternative yogurts, milk, cheeses, and meats began to appear on the shelves, for the most part, they were still highly processed and contained lots of additives and questionable ingredients to make these products palatable and familiar.

"Cooking for a living is caring for people. We were inspired to care for people by creating a great tasting functional yogurt crafted for the vegan and dairy-free consumer, but enjoyed by all who are looking for a clean product." Aline, owner of Koko Kai

Integrating Nutrition into Product Development

Nutrition has always been a significant component of Aline's cooking, and she wanted to incorporate that knowledge into her plant-based yogurt. The plan was to create a product with as few ingredients as possible full of live and active cultures to focus on gut health. With the help of their lab, they tested various combinations of cultures and amounts for the best results in flavor, function, and texture.

"Today we naturally ferment our yogurt with 13 live and active cultures guaranteed billions of probiotics per serving," Aline tells PlanIt.

Hawaii locally made yogurt is vegan

The Beginning of Koko Kai Coconut Yogurt

Aline and John began Koko Kai in mid-2020 amidst the pandemic. Starting with a grassroots approach of participating in farmers markets, they were able to directly engage and learn from their customers, as well as gain visibility in the Oahu community.

"Our goal has always been to make our yogurt available in as many stores as possible so we pursued the wholesale channel path for our product to be available on the shelves of major supermarkets throughout the state of Hawaii," Aline tells PlanIt.

A good business owner will consult their new and loyal customers for product feedback. Without this feedback, there is a block between business and customer, leading the potential of the product and the business itself to suffer. Kokokai's presence in so many markets allowed them to get consistent and varied feedback on their flavors, packaging, texture, etc. From this feedback, they learned they needed to adjust their best-selling Hawaiian Passion Fruit to show fruit at the bottom with real pulp and seeds and to make sure there were no added pectin, sugars, or fillers.

PlanIt knew that improving the look and feel of its packaging would increase sales and shelf space, so it worked with Kokokai to find local artist Kate Wadsworth to design four new labels and a new logo for their yogurts.

Model holds up two jars of kokokai yogurt and laughs
Model holds up two jars with original brand packaging

A few final questions for Aline...

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

Running a business and particularly bringing to life a CPG company is extremely challenging. Our timing of the pandemic added additional challenges with the supply chain, delays, inflation, etc., but we learned to not give up even at low times, always thinking outside the box, never taking no for an answer. We always maintain the state of mind to focus on the solutions rather than the problems.

If you could go make a tell yourself something from the get-go, what would you say?

Be ready for this wild ride, you can only go forward and through it. Focus on the big picture rather than the day-to-day.

What’s next for your business or for you? Or both?!

3 years in, we are expanding our manufacturing facility in Hawaii, which will allow us to diversify, export and create new limited seasonal and limited release flavors. With that we are currently raising funds to get to phase 2 of our plan and Koko Kai 2.0.



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