A multitude of exhibitors at the 2012 Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, offered coconut-based foods and beverages. The trend is not new. Two years ago in May 2010 I wrote in Prepared Foods magazine that “virgin coconut oil (heck, anything coconut, such as beverages, coconut milk-based ice cream and fat-replacer pastes)…” were being introduced in large numbers at the show. See Trends from the Frontline. This year as I started to wonder about the source of all that coconut water, a poster at the O.N.E. Coconut Water booth caught my eye. It pictured a relatively young, blond company founder, Rodrigo Veloso, with the title “Conscience Capitalist.” When I asked a person in the O.N.E. booth what this meant, here is the story he told me.
The representative at the booth said that Brazil is the only developed country producing large quantities of coconut products. I said I had not thought of Brazil as a developed country, but he said that in comparison to some of the primary Asian countries that produced coconut water, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, Brazil was developed. I was told that industrially, coconut husks were one of the first commercially-important components of coconuts. The fibers were used for car seat fillings. The coconut meat is also a popular ingredient of foods such as baked goods and candy bars and coconut oil is also desired for foods and personal care items. However, coconut water was a by-product in processing these coconut ingredients. I was told that Mr. Veloso, along with another student, Eric Loudon, made this part of a thesis for a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree some seven-eight years ago. Coconut water has long had a reputation for its healthfulness.
Eventually, the business plan was turned into a real company, One World Enterprises, LLC. At some point, interest in the by-product coconut water grew so much that it was in short supply. The production process to obtain it was not efficient. Veloso’s company went on to partnered with a Peter Paul plant in the Philippines. The plant, I was told, uses some half a million coconuts a day. (Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars are brands of Peter Paul.) A process was developed where the coconut water was captured, processed and packaged into Tetra Pak drink containers in the Philippines and shipped to the U.S. The brand O.N.E. Coconut Water has not only achieved commercial success in the U.S., but has an ethical angle in that money ends up in the hands of a developing economy.
I did less “due diligence” than usual for this story, but did stop by the booth of Coco Café, another coconut water company, where I was told that they imported coconut water from Asia and Brazil then with after the addition of milk, coffee, sugar and certain other ingredients, “bottled it” into Tetra Paks in Chicago. At the Vita Coco coconut water booth, I was told they packaged their product in Brazil or Asia, depending on the coconut water source.
One last bit of coconut water trivia. A few years ago I had been told that coconut water use to be used for blood transfusions. I get told a lot of things, particularly at this Expo. However, I checked it out to the best of my ability and indeed coconut water indeed has an osmotic value similar to blood. Supposedly during World War II it was used for intravenous hydration when alternatives were in short supply and research since then has confirmed its value for this use. See Campbell-Falck, D, et al. 2000. Am J Emerg Med. 18(1):108-11.