Anyone who’s walked into a health food store in the last couple years can tell you that the word coconut is everywhere.
And for good reason: packed with lauric acid, potassium, cytokinin and electrolytes, coconut, when included as an integral part of your diet, could lead to health benefits including slower aging, weight loss, improved metabolic function, better immunity and more.
But as with any multimillion-dollar market, there’s a back-story. Here, 10 things you don’t know about these wonder nuts.
1. Coconuts have been keeping us (and our predecessors) healthy for 55 million years.
We modern Americans may have just wised up enough to bottle the stuff, but the truth is that ever since coconuts first popped up in areas near the equator, locals have recognized them as elixir material.
2. Sales of coconut products have exploded up to eight-fold over the last five years.
Practically overnight, coconut-related products have gone from fringe interest to full-blown health fad. From 2008 to 2012, launches of coconut water quintupled, coconut palm sugar tripled, and coconut oil shot up by 780 percent. The public’s interest is there to match. Over the last five years, sales of the oil, for example, skyrocketed by 800 percent. Now even our dads are gargling with the stuff.
3. Coconut water alone now represents a $400+ million market.
Since 2009, the top three brands have seen a 600 percent increase in sales in the U.S., now surpassing $400 million. That’s close to what Americans spend on Ruffles potato chips.
4. Today, one in four new food and beverage products are coconut-based.
Seriously! The use of coconut as a primary ingredient accounted for 25 percent of all new launches in the last couple of years. This means that a quarter of the new ice creams, snacks, sugars, teas and drinks you see appear in your local health-food store were made with coconut.
5. Coconut husks can be used as a natural alternative to synthetic fabrics.
A few years ago, a team of researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas figured out how to use the hard, rough outer layer of coconuts—the part that’s usually just thrown away—to make a durable molded composites that can be used to line car interiors (like the trunk). Since the material is very cheap, natural and nontoxic, if implemented it would make for a superior alternative to polyester and other synthetics, a multibillion-dollar industry.
6. Coconut farmers aren’t benefitting from the coconut health-food craze.
Despite all of coconuts’ invaluable attributes and proven ability to generate a lucrative market, by and large coconut farmers live in poverty. By the time you’ve purchased that bottle of coconut water, as many as eight different groups have touched it, all needing their profit. According to a report in Manila Standard Today, 75 percent of the industry’s profits benefit only the top quarter of those involved—landlords, overseers, traders and processors.
7. A shocking 99.5 percent of all coconut products on the market are harvested by the poorest farming sector in the world.
Globally, coconut farmers earn an average annual income of just $400. And this is not just for one individual; this is for the entire family.
8. A significant proportion of the coconuts harvested each year come from plantations.
If that’s conjuring images of harsh conditions and low pay, you’re mind is spot-on. Plantation workers, or day laborers, make even less money than the coconut farmers themselves, often earning pennies to each dollar garnered by the plantation owner.
9. Treating coconut farmers fairly is proven to make a huge difference.
According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Research Economics, a government program in the Philippines that provided training, technology support, agricultural education and reasonable, low-cost loans helped coconut farmers double their income, from $200 to $400 per year.
10. You can help, too.
By buying certified fair trade coconut products, you’re getting the highest quality coconut products out there while supporting the poorest farmers and getting them the extra income they deserve. In Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of coconuts, Big Tree Farms is working with 14,000 organic farms to develop fair, sustainable supply chains based on meaningful relationships with individual farmers and their families.