Coconut products have exploded into nearly every supermarket aisle, and can be found in applications like snacks, baking flour, oil and beauty products. Despite its purported health benefits, however, coconut may not be as nutritious as many people think, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Coconut oil may be beneficial for cholesterol levels, and coconut sugar may be more moderate than cane sugar on the glycemic index, but sugars and fats should still be consumed in moderation.
Superfood trends tend to last for five to seven years or more and may be influenced by factors like plentiful supply or scientific studies that back the ingredient's health benefits. Commodity prices for coconut oil have jumped between 5% and 7% from 2015 after droughts and typhoons affected growing areas.
Coconut products first entered the mainstream with the sudden popularity of coconut water as a natural sports drink a few years ago. From there, it moved into dairy products, and then into just about every other possible category — including shampoos, packaged soups, baby food and topical applications for beauty products.
There is certainly a lot of enthusiasm for coconut right now, but is it reaching market saturation, as some analysts predict so-called superfoods kale and açaï are?
Whether the trend will fizzle out depends on several factors. These include whether supply can keep up with demand, and which direction emerging research into coconut's health benefits goes.
The coconut water category itself has continued to skyrocket, dominating the alternative, plant-based waters market, with sales expected to double from $2.7 billion last year to $5.4 billion by 2020, according to a report by Zenith Global reported on in Beverage Industry.
The coconut water boom has had little impact on farmers because it traditionally was seen as a waste product. However, the growing popularity of other coconut components has hit ingredient costs. Coconut oil prices climbed 20% in a month at the beginning of last year as suppliers in India, Indonesia and the Philippines struggled to keep up with demand. From October 2016 to January this year, prices soared another 27%.
Although some might argue that higher prices could sour consumer enthusiasm for coconut products, coconut benefits from a broad health halo, fitting in with many current health trends. The plant-based product appeals to gluten- and dairy-free consumers, while tapping into growing awareness of healthy fats.
However, the WSJ warns that the health benefits of unprocessed coconut do not always translate into healthy products. Coconut chips, for example, are being marketed as healthier alternatives to potato chips – but they still contain about 150 to 160 calories per serving and about 10 grams of fat.