Turner Francis is a passionate foodie and health, conscious entrepreneur. From an early age, she developed a love affair with Food and Nutrition. Whilst attending St Catherine High School in Jamaica, it was then that she started to experiment with food. At the time, this was not considered a profession and she went on to pursue studies in Business and Administration. After suffering brutally from multiple food intolerances she started to experiment with gluten and dairy free recipes. Moving to Dubai, led her to become the founder of Coco Yogo in Dubai, a naturally dairy-free brand making yogurts and desserts mainly from jelly coconuts and cashews.
Q: What is your connection to Jamaica
British born with Jamaican roots. My parents were from the Windrush era. They immigrated to the UK in the late 50s. In the early 70s when I was 10 years old my parents decided to return to Jamaica. I attended primary school right through to College. After 13 years of working in the banking sector, I decided to return to the UK.
Q: Tell us the story of how you moved to Dubai?
My husband’s work took us to Dubai, we have been living here for 15 years. I also worked in banking here before setting up Coco Yogo.
Q: Are you a business person or entrepreneur or both? (Business person – Starts a business based on an existing idea or concept. An entrepreneur starts a business with their unique idea or concept)
I guess I would consider myself an entrepreneur. I established the Coco Yogo brand in 2012 from a concept out of my home kitchen. I was the first person to launch an online platform selling 100% dairy and gluten free range of desserts and treats in Dubai.
Q: What was your profession before you started your business? (Only answer if you have a previous career before starting a business)
I like to say I switched gear and went from Banker to Dairy Free Diva. I also spent 4 years working for an airline in London but when I moved to Dubai I returned to Banking.
Q: Who or what motivated you to go into business?
I suffer from multiple food intolerances. For as long as I can remember dairy products have made me ill, I later discovered I was also gluten intolerant which means I had to give up all baked goods including bread. At the time there were limited options available in Dubai, so that’s when I decided to start making my own desserts which are also raw and do not contain preservatives or refined sugar.
Q: Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?
As a small business in Dubai, funding is non-existent for expat start-up businesses, so that will always be the biggest challenge. Private investors are an option but with that comes a high level of expectancy and pressure for ROI. I worked my day job and ran the business at the same time for the first 3 years.
Q: Tell us about your business?
Coco Yogo is an artisanal brand, born out of the local farmers market. I have been doing the markets for over 5 years. It’s the most economical way to gain traction and visibility. I have an online shop and a commercial kitchen where we produce our products which are all handmade. We supply healthy eating cafes, health shops, and other B2C platforms.
Q: Many businesses have a moment they call their ‘big three break’, whether it be a news story, a big contract etc. Have you or your business had that ‘big break’ yet?
Yes, a healthy eating delivery company decided to add vegan desserts to their menu, we went from making dozens of desserts to 100s, That’s what got our name out there and people were better able to access our products as they have a very large and effective logistics network. They deliver products all across Dubai in less than 32 minutes.
Q: Currently, what is your biggest business challenge?
Logistics, Dubai has a major delivery culture so everything, even McDonalds, is delivered. If you don’t have your own network you have to use third-party companies which is an added cost to your operations.
Q: Other than the money what types of satisfaction do you get out of your work?
I love developing new recipes and coming up with ways to veganise a normal everyday item.
When I attend events and go to the Farmers Market I hand out tasters and that look on a persons face when they say they can’t believe it’s dairy and gluten free. I have customers who say their child has never had ice cream and they are in heaven when they taste our coconut ice cream.
Q: What motivates you on a day to day basis?
It’s not always easy, but my loyalty to my brand is second to none and the thought of letting someone down or giving up is not an option.
Q: How do you motivate people that aren’t close to you and enable them to see your vision?
I get people coming up to me all the time and saying that I have inspired them and I don’t even realise.
People follow me on social media, they know me from the farmer’s markets and various events that I do, and they are on the outside observing. I was invited to share my story once at a community event and it was amazing how so many people drew inspiration just from me sharing my experiences. I like to keep things real and encourage people to realise their dreams.
Q: How do you remind yourself of what’s important?
I have to tell myself all the time that health is wealth and that’s what matters most. Running your own business can take a toll on your health and if you don’t draw the line you can really end up causing yourself a lot of stress and ill health.
Q. What time do you wake up and do you have a routine?
I am an early riser. It’s instilled in me. When I lived in Jamaica as a child I had to catch the train to school and if you didn’t make it to the station by 6:00 am you would be late for school and taxis were too expensive. My husband leaves home at 6:30 am and I always make sure I am up to help him prepare his fruit plate and whatever he’s taking for the day. Emails are my number one priority as well as checking facing book for messages and updates on Instagram. Shoppers in Dubai are very social media savvy so you have to keep on top of thins. Nowadays I don’t spend as much time in the kitchen but I still go every day to check on operations and production.
Q. Do you have any hobbies?
Of course, I like to cook, and I am a foodie, and I go to the gym. I love travelling, and being in the Middle East we are well positioned to explore SE Asia.
Q. If the economy crashed hard and there was no more room for you in the business sector, what would you do with yourself?
I would write a cookbook, run workshops and teach people how to make all the dairy and gluten-free options that I have created and share my recipes hints and tips.
Q: Seven days, six nights, all expense paid, my vacation destination is…
Bhutan, it’s a fascinating place with a low-level impact tourism, they only allow a certain number of tourists to visit.
Q: My favourite guilty pleasure is…
Chocolate and Haribos (like juju)
Q: My favourite Jamaican food is…
Plantains (we get them here and they call them big bananas.