Vegan ice cream maker turns down Dragons’ Den offer

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Cecily Mills: ‘It was a major confidence boost to see the Dragons’ belief in me and my product’
Cecily Mills: ‘It was a major confidence boost to see the Dragons’ belief in me and my product’
A vegan ice cream maker who won financial backing in last night’s (16 September) episode of Dragons’ Den has revealed she wasn’t subsequently able to take up the offer.

Cecily Mills, founder of dairy-free ice cream brand Coconuts Naturally, accepted an offer of £75,000 for 30% of her business from Dragon Jenny Campbell on Sunday’s BBC Two show.

Mills originally asked for same amount in exchange for 20% of the Cornwall-based company, which she set up in 2015.

Due to other investment coming forward and other undisclosed “key developments”​, Mills has since decided not to work with Campbell.

A former Marks & Spencer store manager, Mills set up Coconuts Naturally after being frustrated about of the vegan ice creams in the market.

Made without nuts or soya

Billed as the UK’s only organic, dairy-free ice cream made without nuts or soya, the six-strong range is available at Ocado and a number of independent stores. It is also exported to Dubai.

The company is about to ship its first order to Hong Kong, and has also struck a deal with a major, as yet undisclosed, UK retailer. Meanwhile, two new flavours are in development.

On last night’s show, Mills revealed that she didn’t want to remain a family business, and was aiming to be a £1m-plus turnover company within five years. She disclosed that in 2017, the company had sales of £87,000 with a gross profit of £86,000 and a net loss of £33,000.

For 2018, Mills forecasted a turnover of £87,000, with gross profit of £114,000 and a net profit of £42,000.

Her pitch also led to an offer from Dragon Tej Lalvani, who proposed £75,000 in exchange for 40% of the business.

Mills said featuring on the show had been an “amazing experience”​, and she was extremely grateful for all she learnt.

‘Major confidence boost’

“It was a major confidence boost to see the Dragons’ belief in me and my product,”​ Mills said.

“Turning down the mentorship and exposure to a phenomenal businesswoman like Jenny Campbell was a very difficult decision. But again, I followed my instinct and it was the right thing to do for the company. It’s all about trusting yourself.”

Despite having to decline input from the Dragon, Mills still believed in the importance of mentors for a start-up.

Times can be tough, especially in the beginning. In April 2015, I received my first big order with no premises, a need to develop a fourth ice cream flavour – and a four-month-old baby. Then, the recipes all went wrong when I put them through the new pasteurising machine!​ 

“I’m constantly facing new challenges, but I love being kept on my toes. It’s what drives the business forward. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”

The six flavours in the Coconuts Naturally range are Coconut Caramel, Rum & Raisin, Raw Chocolate, Mint Choc Chip, Creamy Coconut and Sumptuous Strawberry. Five of the flavours have won Great Taste Awards.

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