Consumers crazy about coconut, but are they nuts?

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

IRI: Cocnut milk sales up 67% in the UK. ©iStock
IRI: Cocnut milk sales up 67% in the UK. ©iStock
Whilst sales data from market intelligence provider IRI shows that UK consumers can’t get enough of coconut products, a leading dietician brands coconut “an expensive con with no authorised health claims”.

Data from IRI’s InfoScan retail tracking service showed that coconut water, although still accounting for just 1% of the total UK soft drinks market, is now worth almost £60m (€79m) in value sales. This represents an increase of 64% (52 w/e 26 March 16) over the previous year. The market insights provider also reported that coconut oil has seen a 112% increase versus last year and is now worth more than £14m (€18m) per year in sales to UK supermarkets. Value sales of coconut milk are up too, having grown by 67% to £16 million (€24m) in the past 12 months. 

Coconuts, and coconut oil in particular, seem to be the popular choice at the moment,” ​noted Tim Eales, director of strategic insight at IRI.

Beyond the UK

Whilst the sales data analysed by IRI was only for the UK retail market, the market analyst said it was seeing the coconut trend playing out in other European countries.

“We are aware that coconut oil is growing quickly in Germany, but so far only has a small share of the total oil market. In the Netherlands we have seen strong growth of coconut in the last few years; coconut oil is a hype (but still niche), and we are seeing strong growth of both real coconut milk based products and coconut flavoured products in dairy and juices,​ Eales told NutraIngredients.

IRI attributed the rise of coconut products to the popularity of Thai-inspired food, as well as

celebrities praising coconut for everything from weight loss to better brain function and whiter teeth.

“Popular with food bloggers, celebrities and health and fitness enthusiasts, edible coconut products are increasingly seen as healthy, tasty and good for the diet,” ​said the company.

The coconut con

But despite being championed by food bloggers, celebrities and health and fitness enthusiasts, coconuts are nothing more than “an expensive con with no authorised health claims”​, according to dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton.

“None of the well-touted minerals in coconut water, for example, reaches the required 15% NRV (nutrient reference value) to enable nutrient claims to be made. If you enjoy the taste of coconut products, that's fair enough but, if you are buying them for specific health benefits, other products are more cost effective. For example, tea or sports drinks for hydration, regular dairy products for protein and calcium, and olive or rapeseed oils for cooking,” ​she said.

The IRI statistics, however, indicate that consumers are indeed buying coconut products for the purported nutritional benefits rather than the taste. Sales of yoghurts flavoured with coconut were reported to be slightly down, while new brands such as CoYo and KOKO, which are dairy-free alternatives and made from coconut milk, are flying off the shelves, said IRI. It observed that the same pattern was apparent in the ice cream category, where dairy-free ice cream made from coconut milk was growing “massively”​.

Staying power?

Coconut Oil2

As for whether the coconut trend is likely to be a fleeting fad or a lasting trend, Eales said that the “faster than expected”​ rise of coconut water could point to a “strong core of loyal users and a healthy future for its sales”​.

In relation to coconut oil, he said “oils tend to come and go so it is possible that coconut oil will go the same way, being used in its pure form only by aficionados and those who are the most fastidious about their diets”​.

He noted that coconut as an ingredient and flavour was gaining popularity and said it seemed likely that this trend will continue.

“I think its also important to note that people may already be looking to the next trend, for instance cactus water (tipped to be the next coconut water!) and aloe vera drinks,” ​he added.

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