Coconut water supplier ITI Tropicals claims that around 15% of coconut water sold in the US is adulterated with unlabeled added sugars – and is calling for industry action to retain consumer trust.
Gert Van Manen, president of iTi Tropicals, told BeverageDaily.com last night that – following comments Vita Coco executive Giles Brook who referenced UK brands with added sugar in this interview for our site – his company chose to test the most prominent US brands.
Another factor that raised New Jersey-based iTi’s suspicions was unduly high declared sugar levels in certain brands inconsistent with freshly collected coconut water – so the firm paid Krueger Food Laboratories to conduct analyses.
These determined that there are basically two categories of coconut water – no added sugar (Coco Libre, Naked, Zico, Zola fall into this category) and added sugar (Goya and Vita Coco).
Van manen insists that all the leading brands, Zico, Naked, Vita Coco, Purity Organics, Zola, Goya, label their products correctly, and applauds Goya and Vita Coco for flagging-up added sugar.
Alleged adulteration with corn, beer, cane and rice sugars...
Other brands don’t, he insists. Van Manen declines to name names, but says iTi (which sells 100% pure coconut water in bulk) is unfairly competing with rivals that adulterate the water with sugars from corn, beet, cane and rice to cut costs.
Van Manen claims that 12 canned and bottled beverages packaged in Thailand and tested by Krueger are suspect; by contrast the coconut water that iTi (for example) imports from Philippines and Indonesia comes from GFSI-certified facilities that are socially audited. The leading brands use such reputable supplies.
All the coconuts processed under these rules are opened at the factory and processed, and Van Manen said “serious money” has been spent on this infrastructure, not least by iTi, which he said had invested heavily since CODEX declared coconut water to be a fruit juice in 2004.
But he warned there was one simple reason why 12 brands were adulterated with added sugars.
Raw material dilution - supply chain vulnerability
“They are all packaged in Thailand and in most factories they don’t open the nuts but rather receive the water from third-party suppliers,” he told this site.
“In other words the nut is broken at a different location and then transported to be packaged. Obviously this leaves a lot of room to ‘dilute’ the raw materials, and makes the supply chain very vulnerable.”
“If customers prefer sweetened coconut water, fine, but they need to know,” Van Manen added, warning that the industry needed to act to end misleading labeling practices to maintain consumer confidence.
Vita Coco reiterates sourcing standards and quality control
Vita Coco and Goya represent 60% of volumes in the added sugar coconut water category, van Manen said, which represents 75% of US volumes overall.
Both brands declare added sugars and generally contain more sugars than 100% pure juice, he added, but he did point out that although market leader Vita Coco’s on-pack text, ‘less than 1% natural fruit sugars’ sounded minimal, it could represent around 25% of total sugars in the drink.
Presented with van Manen’s remarks, Vita Coco spokesman Arthur Gallego told this site: “Vita Coco coconut water is a premium beverage brand that subscribes to the highest levels of sourcing, production, quality control and consumer satisfaction, on a global level.”
Our research shows that Vita Coco added ‘less than 1% natural fruit sugars’ (these are derived from pears and apples) to its non-flavored product’s labeling and ingredient list in 2012.
This allows the brand to standardize sweetness levels irrespective of harvest, time of year and country of origin, although the brand’s packaging still notes that ‘taste may vary’.