When Danielle Conte went on a three-week vacation to New Zealand, she had no intention of giving up her job after she got back. But tired from ninety-hour work weeks working as an investment baker, she decided on the return flight that it was time for a change. She quit her job in 2012 and booked a one-way flight to Bali to teach math, English and computer skills and practice yoga in hopes of discovering her next career path. On her second day in Ubud, she found it after spotting a motorbike. A healer recommended she use coconut oil and it healed her wound in no time.
Conte came home raving about coconut oil. “I used it for everything—pulling, deodorant, shaving my legs,” the entrepreneur tells Forbes. “But that was 2014, coconut oil wasn’t cool yet.” She knew she wanted to build a business around her newfound obsession, but she didn’t know what it would look like until a jar of coconut oil was confiscated at the airport. “That’s when my personal light bulb went off and I thought, ‘I’ve got to put this stuff in a travel tube,'” says Conte.
Conte spent six months trying to make her vision a reality. “No one in the United States would put coconut oil in a tube for me because coconut oil was only used for food at the time and the tubes are considered cosmetics,” Conte explains. He eventually found a Fair Trade certified supplier overseas to produce the oil in travel tubes and it immediately flew off the shelves. “It’s not your ordinary coconut oil, it’s organic, unscented and certified fair trade,” Donte enthuses, “Due to special processing methods, it has four times more antioxidants than any other coconut oil.”
Determined to make coconut oil a travel essential, she sold it only in travel tubes for the first three years. But with a loyal following soon demanding more, he began packaging the oil in other convenient forms, such as sachets and wipes. “The packs and wipes were a nice bridge for people who weren’t ready to slather themselves in coconut oil,” Conte laughs, noting how the packs are easy to use, no matter what the outside temperature.
Describing the dry brush as “a mistake solved,” Conte says it has become one of their most popular products. So you have the hair kits. Inspired by the ancient practice of applying coconut oil to the hair, Conte created the hair kit with a hair towel made from recycled water bottles. The kit comes with an explanatory guide, which Conte says shows they “really took the time” to create coconut products with intention.
This intention extends beyond product design to every stage of the Conscious Coconut supply chain, starting with production. “It’s not just pretty packaging,” Conte emphasizes. “From start to finish, it’s a platform of love.” Describing the coconut oil jar that took her three years to design, Conte says, “There are so many lives that go into a single jar—the coconut oil farmer, all the factory workers.”
The businessman believes that Fair Trade certification is more than a sticker, it is non-negotiable, “Having been abroad and spent so much time with these people, seeing how hard they work, their children deserve the same things that my children have —security, a roof over their head, healthy food. I can’t help everyone, but I’ll die trying.”
“It’s not just pretty packaging,” emphasizes Donde. “As soon as it all arrives in Tampa, 120 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are packing our coconut oil at the MacDonald Education Center.” Located five minutes from her home in Tampa Bay, Donde sees the training center as a win-win. “Not only do we get our work done, but they get paid for it and learn job skills,” Donde says.
With a variety of training groups offered — from computer skills to art to medical training — Conte says the MacDonald Training Center treats each person with a disability as an individual, helping them find the job that best suits their skills. “They don’t make assumptions, they take the time to understand for each person what they are best at,” says Conte. “It’s so empowering to be able to take care of yourself.”
Even when the product is packaged and ready for sale, Conte still sees opportunities for returns. “For every unit we sell, we donate a meal to Feeding America,” Conte tells Forbes. “People are just beginning to understand that there are 22 million hungry children in the United States every day. It’s so crazy to live in a land of plenty and have so many hungry children.” The company’s partnership with Feeding America has fed more than half a million children over the past six years.
While Donte prioritizes her local community, Conscious Coconut was created with a global audience in mind. With a map of the Conscious Coconut world hanging on the wall behind her, the entrepreneur describes her ideal customer as someone who is worldly, “Travel is a state of mind, it’s about being open-minded: open-minded to natural products, to your neighbor, to different experiences.”
Describing frequent trips to her husband’s native Colombia, Donte loves using her coconut oil on the road. But when the pandemic slowed her trip, she took advantage of the product’s flexibility at home. From pulling coconut for dental hygiene to helping her hair grow after having two children, the businesswoman says she uses it for everything.
“I love it for soothing things – stings, rashes, cuts or bruises. You can put coconut oil on a sunburn and it will go away in no time. It’s my husband’s passion for his beard,” describes Conte. Conte not only uses it as a topical remedy, but also praises its internal benefits, “I put a tablespoon in my tea or coffee every day and it helps with my digestion. It curbs my appetite and gives me energy.”
While Conte may have started out on a mission to put coconut oil in travelers’ suitcases, she’s now determined to make it a household essential. That’s why you can now find it in Whole Foods checkout aisles across the country. “My promise is to package coconut oil for everyone everywhere,” says the entrepreneur.
You can also find it on Jet Blue flights, “it’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I started,” says Conte. The final step to get Conscious Coconut into the hands of its secular clientele is to open in 500 hotel spas. With major hotel brands such as the Four Seasons, Marriott and Hilton incorporating Conscious Coconut products into their Ayurvedic-inspired massage services and offering them as room amenities, Conte is transforming Conscious Coconut from an on-the-go essential to a luxury self-care product . .
“The way it plays out in my mind is that a passenger will find Conscious Coconut on a Jet Blue flight, then land and go to Canyon Ranch where they will see it again in their spa services. Then they’ll come home and see it at their local boutique or Whole Foods,” explains Conte. “It’s great to see this natural product becoming accessible to so many people who wouldn’t normally see it.” With such ambitious expansion plans, Conte hopes it won’t be long before Conscious Coconut becomes a household name.