How this Kerala housewife built a global coconut products business from a small shed

Sumila Jayaraj began making coconut oil, vinegar, milk and other products from a shed next to her house. Today, Greenaura International sells organically made products across the world and clocks Rs20 lakh monthly revenues while empowering local farmers

Riya Singh
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Sumila Jayaraj, founder, Greenaura International

Sumila Jayaraj, founder, Greenaura International

After her marriage, Sumila Jayaraj, hailing from Thrissur in Kerala, moved to Mumbai. Soon she became the mother of twins and embraced the role of a full-time homemaker. Six years later, when her husband left for Dubai, and her kids got busy with their school and studies, Sumila was presented with a choice: to solely focus on her domestic responsibilities or take up a job alongside. Choosing the latter, she moved back to Kerala and joined a virgin coconut oil company.

Sumila’s daily duties involved attending customers’ calls and handling email communications from all across the world. While explaining the importance of virgin coconut oil to over a thousand customers, Sumila herself developed a passion for it. “Virgin coconut oil is a great product, it is known to be the mother of all oils,” Sumila tells 30Stades.

Shortly after, a call from a London-based company turned out to be a pivotal point that helped Sumila realize her potential. She cracked the export order for around 500 litres of coconut oil worth Rs 2.5 lakh and only informed the management after the money was wired. This significantly boosted her confidence.

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Later, while working on a documentary about virgin coconut oils, Sumila contacted a regular customer Dr Joy Kurian, a dental surgeon at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He told Sumila that he was treating 72 children with painful mouth ulcers. Most of these kids had undergone chemotherapy.

Sumila Jayaraj, a housewife turned coconut entrepreneur. Pic: Greenaura International

However, there was one exception. One of the kid’s mothers was regularly applying virgin coconut oil to his mouth. 

“The doctor asked the mother to apply the same to 10 more children, and none of the kids developed mouth ulcers after the application of virgin coconut oil,” recollects Sumila.

She went on to join the board of directors of the company where she worked. However, being the only woman on the board made Sumila’s work difficult and she decided to quit in 2011 to start her enterprise.

From employee to coconut entrepreneur

In 2012, with an investment of around Rs 15 lakh, Sumila started a small manufacturing unit named Greennut in a shed near her home with two women and a driver. It made coconut-based products like virgin coconut oil, desiccated powder, milk powder etc. “It was a tough time for me back then, I faced a lot of difficulties regarding manpower, marketing etc.,” she says.

Also Read: How this Goa family earns Rs 42 lakh per acre from organic coconut farming

However, Sumila’s fortunes changed after she bagged an order worth Rs1 crore in 2013. While the flow of orders steadily increased, Sumila was facing problems in managing them through her small unit. In 2021, she started a small proprietorship firm named Greennut International, which was reconstituted as Greenaura International, with an investment of around Rs 2 crore.

Greenaura manufacturing unit can process 10,000 coconuts per day. Pic: Greenaura International 

Greenaura currently markets over 13 products through its website under the brand name Greennuts. The products, which are made using fresh coconuts, include coconut milk, coconut virgin oil, desiccated coconut powder, coconut vinegar, and coconut pickle, among others.

The company enjoys a strong demand from the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, and the European countries. 

Commenting on the demand in India, Sumila says, “In Kerala, there’s still little awareness about the properties of coconut oil. But we see a better demand from northern states.”

“We are growing as a company. During the first two months, we only made about Rs 2 lakhs,” the woman entrepreneur says. The monthly sales for Greenaura are now estimated at Rs20 lakh.

Also Read: Kerala: How this 12th-pass woman turned her organic food processing home business into a successful start-up

Organic manufacturing

The manufacturing of the products is organic and there is no addition of chemicals. The cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is generated through the centrifugal method, which retains more nutrients and antioxidants than the hot-pressed oil method.

In the centrifugal method, the coconuts are pressed gently, maintaining the temperature below 40 degrees Celsius to create unrefined coconut milk. The milk is further spun and separated three times through a centrifuge system, isolating the raw coconut oil.

Another key product -- coconut milk, which has a shelf life of 15 months, is manufactured using the double pasteurization method. The company also customizes the fat content of the milk based on the customer’s preference.

“There’s always a high demand for coconut products. Over 50 percent of the fats in coconut oil is lauric acid - a high immunity booster present in mother’s milk and can be consumed directly by children,” says Sumila.

Packaging after double pasteurization of coconut milk. Pic: Greenaura International 

The company sources the raw coconuts from around 25 local farmers at a price slightly higher than the market rate to ensure premium quality. The farmers earn around Rs6,000 per day through the company. 

“Coconuts in my locality are known for their high oil content which is why I source from local farmers,” she says. The manufacturing unit can process 10,000 coconuts per day. However, currently, only 60 percent of the capacity is in use.

“This work is more of a passion than business for me, I believe in the products and try to explore the value addition aspect fully,” says Sumila, who plans to expand her company’s portfolio to over 100 products. She also aims to expand her small Research and Development (R&D) lab.  

Also Read: Kerala farmer harvests 6000 kg rambutan per acre with high-density farming

“I got the know-how on maintaining good quality from Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), a research institute in Mysore, Karnataka and through years of experience,” adds Sumila.

Sumila Jayaraj employees 16 people at her unit. Pic: Greenaura International

Greenaura currently employs 16 locals -- among which 12 are women -- for its daily operations. The company also trains the women on hygiene and work ethics before hiring. The employees draw around Rs10,000 per month.

Lack of awareness and support from the locals is a major challenge for small shop owners. “Getting a loan is another area where I had trouble, I had to wait a year to get my loan sanctioned,” says Sumila. Apart from this, the shortage of trained labour also affects manufacturing, she adds.

(Riya Singh is a Ranchi-based journalist who writes on environment, farming, sustainability, startups, & women empowerment)

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