- Increasing tropical storms pose a risk to the coconut supply from Southeast Asia, so manufacturers of plant-based ice cream are scouting around for potential substitutes such as tofu, lab-made milk and other ingredients, Bloomberg reported.
- Coconut cream is often the base for vegan ice cream because it is known to be more dense than other alternatives. Most of the world’s coconuts come from Southeast Asia. In 2018, 29 tropical storms hit the Northwest Pacific Region, which is higher than the annual average, according to the U.S. Hurricane Research Division research cited by Bloomberg.
- Kim Gibson Clark, CEO of Oregon-based Coconut Bliss, told the news agency the company sources half of its coconut supply from Thailand and half from the Philippines to make its dairy-free ice cream. "We’re going to continue to support coconut farmers and those communities for as long as we can, but we realize that there’s absolutely a climate threat to those areas," she said.
The trend toward vegan and plant-based ice cream has been driven by consumers who want healthier foods and beverages that benefit themselves and the planet. The global market for plant-based ice cream was about $400 million in 2017 and could reach $1 billion annually by 2024, according to data from Global Market Insights.
The popularity of vegan ice cream and other coconut-based products such as yogurt has boosted the need for coconuts, but the demand has been hard to sustain. It's uncertain how easy it could be to find acceptable alternatives that are not prohibitively expensive and have similar tastes and textures and are comparable with the products in which they are being used.
Since 2005, Coconut Bliss has used coconut milk in all of its products. But to avoid a supply loss, the company is developing a plant-based milk source, which CEO Kim Gibson Clark told Bloomberg will require a name change since it would no longer be coconut. At Salt & Straw, an ice cream maker based in Oregon, co-founder Tyler Malek told the news service the company is investigating aquafaba, white beans and allergen-free milk to diversify from coconut cream.
Other products could be impacted as well. As consumers turn away from dairy, more brands have been launching coconut products. Ingredients from coconuts are being used in whipped toppings, beverages, salad dressings, soups, curries, milkshakes and jams, according to Dairy Reporter.
Conagra's Reddi-wip launched non-dairy alternatives using almond and coconut varieties last year. Non-dairy beverages are another segment where coconut has become increasingly important, including in Danone's So Delicious organic coconut milk and Vita Coco's coconut-based milk alternative. Non-dairy yogurt also has been introduced, such as Chobani's new line of coconut-based products.
Due to the rising demand for coconuts, sustainability has become an issue in recent years. Cargill recently began sourcing coconut oil from farms that are Rainforest Alliance Certified, and chocolate makers such as Barry Callebaut have backed efforts to make coconut more sustainable. However, a recent Greenpeace report found most CPG companies have not followed through on sustainability pledges.
As the demand for coconuts and vegan ice cream continues to increase, more companies could feel the impact of a shortage. Now could be an important time for food and beverage manufacturers to work on finding coconut alternatives since the ramp-up period to new formulations can be long and expensive.