It's All Gone Coconuts

The coconut industry is booming, with an average 8% CAGR in terms of revenue expected to take the global market size to US$ 14800 million by 2024. Demand is growing, but do we have the supply to keep up? Tom Smart takes a closer look. 

500%. That is the increase in demand for coconuts and their related products over the past decade. As already mentioned that figure is set to rise, boosted in no doubt by its versatility. 

The coconut market is large and diverse, with sales of whole coconuts accounting for a remarkably small percentage overall. Instead the magical nut* has crept into all manner of products in the food, drink, cosmetics and even cleaning industries, with new uses cropping up daily. Take the humble coconut oil as an example; a quick internet search shows that it is touted as a moisturiser, natural deodorant, furniture polish, stain remover and even an insect repellent before we even begin to entertain its use as a food product.

We really can’t get enough coconut, and that’s before we get to its primary use as a foodstuff. In the food and drink sector the increase in popularity is eye-watering. Coconut juice is the fastest growing in the fruit juice sector**, while coconut milk sales are growing at a rate comparable to more traditional dairy alternatives. Both are buoyed by perceived and well-publicised nutritional benefits, which we asked Jelena Stader-Koch from Dr. Antonio Martins to summarise:

‘Coconut juice is low in calories and above all it supplies minerals that are lost through sweating. According to many studies, coconut juice has an isotonic effect due to its nutritional properties – it can compensate for mineral losses much better than pure water.’

High praise indeed, and just one viewpoint along a pathway of positivity that puts coconut milk, juice and water on a pedestal. No wonder sales are booming. 

But do those sales come at a cost? There is one headline number that attention must be drawn to that sums it all up: fourteen years.  

That is the length of time, on average, it takes for a coconut tree to reach its peak production. Yet in the last decade demand has increased 500%, and the market has grown 8% year on year. How does that work you might ask? Good question.

The truth is that manufacturers have become resourceful, and the percentage of actual coconut used in drinks in particular can vary hugely. 

‘A premium coconut milk should contain a high percentage of coconut ingredients, as little water as possible and (where possible) be organic’ Jelena added. ‘When it comes to coconut juice numerous beverage companies have simply jumped on the bandwagon. Coconut juice is a pure, natural product – no preservatives and above all no sugar may be added.’

There is also the issue of intensive farming of coconuts and its wide-ranging environmental effects. From fruit-picking monkey workers to reports of farmers (majority small-scale) earning less than $1 per day for their produce, there are some who believe consumers should be guided away from purchasing such a commodity due to environmental concerns similar to those applied to avocado and quinoa.

There is hope though, and it comes in the form of sustainable programmes and FAIRTRADE products. Jelena was keen to point out the success Green Coco Europe has had building long-term relationships:

‘Dr. Antonio Martins has successfully relied on long and sustainable partnerships from the very beginning, including in Sri Lanka. The young coconuts for the premium product brand grow in organically certified coconut gardens. Our coconut water has been officially ©FAIRTRADE certified since January 2019. Thanks to the decision to buy coconut water from Sri Lankan farmers, Dr Antonio Martins has already been able to create 8000 jobs there.’

So perhaps it really is possible to fuel our coconut obsession here in the west without compromising those who rely on the product for their livelihood. Issues arise because the majority of consumers still require education around the necessity to purchase sustainable products across the board, not just in the coconut aisle (and at current rate of growth a whole aisle will be required). Making choices based on quality of product as well as factors that we cannot directly see, rather than just the cost, may be a tough sell. But the sustainable model clearly works for some manufacturers such as Green Coco Europe, so let us hope others are taking note. 

* Trivia: the coconut isn’t technically a nut at all. The whole ‘coconut’ you may see in the supermarket is just the seed or pit. In nature a whole coconut consists of three layers and is actually a type of fruit called a drupe, similar to a cherry or olive. It consists of a skin, some flesh on the inside and a hard pit in the middle (that bit being the coconut that we have come to know and love). 

**Nut-juice isn’t a thing apparently. Fruit status confirmed.