Understanding the Scope of BRC Certificates

Achieving BRC is a tremendous milestone for a food and food ingredient producer. Not only does it signal that your operation has successfully adopted globally recognized product safety, integrity, quality, and operational controls, but it opens up new markets that will accept your products. But, are all BRC certificates created equal? In the coconut sugar industry, we know of two producers in Indonesia that are technically BRC certified. However, we have observed that the scope of the certification covers is different. This means that before making any purchasing decisions, procurement teams must pay careful attention to the scope of each company’s BRC certificate, and understand the risks that are covered or not covered in the certificate. 

Company #1

Company #1 has received BRC certificate covering their entire production process. This means that at every step, from farmers cooking the sap, to drying, sifting, packaging, every step has been audited and validated by the BRC team. The risk of accidents, or contaminated product is reduced because every step in the production flow chart has been carefully vetted to ensure compliance to BRC standards. 

Company #2

The scope of Company #2’s BRC certificate is more limited than Company #1. Instead of the BRC certificate covering all production steps. the certificate only covers the processing steps after the sugar arrives in the facility. This is an important distinction, because several steps are needed to produce coconut sugar before the the sugar arrives at the facility for packaging. In the scope of the BRC audit, Company #2 is responsible for the oversight of hundreds of farmers who are responsible for ensuring that the correct techniques are followed to produce coconut sugar, the farmers are not themselves bound to follow BRC guidelines. 

Tactically, what does this mean for the purchasing agent? It means, keep asking questions about the quality control procedures of a potential supplier. Just because the the supplier claims to be BRC certified, be sure you ask what the scope of the certificate covers. Is it just packaging? Or is it the production and packaging? To be fair, having a narrowly focused BRC certificate is still better than having no BRC certificate at all, but the risk of receiving contaminated product is higher for a supplier whose BRC certificate covers packaging versus a supplier whose BRC certificate covers every step of the production process. 

Broker Dealers, Auctions, and Other Players in Sri Lanka

As we are committed to providing transparency all along the coconut supply chain, today’s blog post is about the role of plantation owners, brokers, sub-brokers, auctions, producers, traders, and other terms that make up the coconut supply chain. These apply to the Sri Lankan coconut market and do not necessarily reflect conditions in other countries. 

Plantation Owners: Ground zero for coconut production. The plantation owners own the land and employ labor to collect the physical coconuts from their fields. Typical plantation size may vary, from a few hectares to several hundred hectares. Plantation owners may sell directly to a processor, or they may sell to a broker, or sub broker who will then resell the nuts in an auction market. As you may suspect, quality varies across geography and owner, you can expect the nuts from certain established plantations to fetch premiums on the auction market. 

Broker/Sub Brokers: These parties bring the coconuts to market. They travel from plantation to plantation and organize the logistics and transportation of the nuts to auction market. In addition to serving certain geographical regions, these brokers are the eyes and ears on the ground. These brokers are often the source of information that gets floated through the grapevine. 

Auction market: Is held every Thursday at the Coconut Research and Development Authority. These auctions take place in a large chamber, is moderated by an auctioneer, and is attended by the procurement departments of different processors. The industry is collegial, and the heads of different processors and plantations all know each other. Therefore, there seems to be a localized value system when certain buyers bid on certain plantations nuts. 

Producers: These organizations own the processing facilities, mills, and employ the labor that creates the various coconut products. In Sri Lanka, it’s relatively rare to see one producer with everything (oil, flour, chips, desiccated, milk, cream). Instead, most specialize in two or three and achieve economies of scale. To our knowledge, the oldest producer has been in business for almost one hundred years, and newcomers are relatively rare because of the capital expenditure required to set up factories. If there are new comers, they are usually a secondary business to a wealthy businessman who seeks to penetrate the coconut market. Producers export directly to the international market, while some may sell to traders along the way. 

As always, drop us a note with comments or questions, we are always happy to expand on our findings and talk out what we see on the ground. 

Recent Gluten Contamination in Coconut Sugar Industry

Back in Indonesia for another coconut farmer visit, and here to update you on some recent developments in the organic coconut sugar industry. There’s been news of recent gluten contamination. This is worrying because coconut sugar is a mono ingredient product. Something is contaminating the coconut sap. But what? And how?  

Well, the answer requires a better understanding of two important steps in the coconut sugar production process.

  1. Farmer climbs up the coconut tree, collects the sap at the top into cylindrical bamboo containers. Sap is transported to the wife, whose job is to cook the sap and grind it into granulated sugar. 
  2. The sap either turns into granulated sugar (more expensive, better quality) or a hardened block form (cheaper, lower quality)

Here are where the issues begin. If cooked correctly, high quality sap turns into a thick paste which is the ground down and turned into granulated sugar (and then transported to a CPU for further drying and sieving). However, low quality sap does not turn into the thick paste. Instead, low quality sap remains a liquid, molasses type texture, and cannot be ground down into a granulated sugar, nor can it be turned into a hard block of coconut sap. 

At the juncture, the farmer has a choice to make. Either he can sell the molasses type liquid on the domestic market for about 30-40% of what organic granulated sugar would sell for, or he can take a chance and mix the molasses-y liquid with flour (that acts as a binding agent) so that the farmer can sell the sugar in block form to the processor. 

Due to a number of factors, these farmers often choose to mix their “molasses sap” with flour in order to minimize their losses. Visually, the hardened block mixed with flour cannot be easily detected, the only option is to test for gluten in a laboratory. 

These malfeasant practices ultimately hurt not only the consumer, who is expecting a gluten free product, but also the overall legitimacy of the coconut industry. What can food manufacturers who use coconut sugar in an ingredient do to protect themselves? For more information on this issue, drop us a note at hello@thecoconutcoop.com and we would be happy to discuss these issues with you privately. Thanks so much.  

Making Something Out of Nothing

One of the reasons we love coconut is because of it’s incredibly flexibility. Outside of the food industry, coconuts have gained prominence in industries as diverse as home furnishings, kitchenware, and indoor farming. Even more, these products are often derived from what is otherwise trash, and fits the bill of “making something out of nothing.”

Coconut Bowls

In coconut ingredient manufacturing (such as coconut flour, desiccated coconut, etc), a worker splits the coconut nut in half with a small ax-like tool. Once the meat is harvested, the shells are discarded. But on our last trip to Vietnam, we discovered something fascinating. These enterprising farmers use a buzzsaw to perfectly cut the coconut in half. The meat is still harvested, but instead of throwing out the shells, workers clean, polish and sell the shells as novelty bowls. The company Coconut Bowls is one such example selling these bowls. Ingenious. Instead of discarding these shells, these shells get put to use as bowls, and consumers around the world can pick them up for ~ $13/bowl. 

Coconut Coir

Ask any Indoor and hydroponic farmers and they will have likely heard of coconut coir. What is it? Found inside the outer coat, coconut coir is the fibrous coat found outside of the brown shell. These fibers are categorized as brown or white. The brown coir is found in ripe coconuts and is stronger but less flexible, while the white coir is found in pre-ripe coconuts and is less strong but far more flexible. Epic Gardening has a brief primer on the production process of coconut coir. In hydroponic growing, coconut coir has wonderful water retention capabilities, environmentally friendly growing medium that provides a quality alternative to traditional soils. 

Coconut Mattresses

The final use case I’ll share today took me by surprise as I was walking down the street in Manhattan, NY. I saw a sign for Coco Mat and was immediately intrigued. Their flagship mattress is made from a host of natural materials including coconut fiber. This Greek based hospitality and home furnishing company promotes that all natural mattresses, free of chemical additives or retardants), improve the overall quality of sleep. 

These examples highlight how coconuts can be used outside of the food ingredient world. Indeed, organizations such as the Coconut Research Institute are constantly on the look out for new use cases. By discovering these new applications, not only does the appeal of coconut grow, but hopefully local farmers will be able to take advantage and diversify their incomes by using every part of the illustrious coconut. 

Knowing Your Virgin Coconut Oil

Here at The Coconut Cooperative we like to bring our readers interesting tidbits in the coconut world. Today, a closer look at the different manufacturing processes within the “same” type of coconut oil.

Everyday consumers are offered a plethora of choice when it comes to coconut oil. We’ve looked at the difference between expeller vs cold press, virgin versus extra virgin, etc. I will admit, a lot of it is just clever marketing. But, as producers compete over cost and market share, there is variation within the same products, namely Virgin Coconut Oil. 

For example, we recently spoke with several VCO producers who sell different grades of Virgin Coconut Oil. The main difference between the grades, is the temperature at which the coconut meat is dried at prior to the expelling process. 

To produce the highest quality coconut oil, low temperature (<50 degree celsius) are preferred because the low temperature ensures that the least amount of nutrient is lost in the final product. However, because it takes more time to dry the same amount of coconut meat, less coconut oil is produced per day than by drying coconut meat at a higher temperature. 

While this may seem like an insignificant point, drying coconut meat at a higher temperature (>60 degrees) allows producers to lower their production costs while still labeling the final product as “virgin coconut oil”. However, as knowledgable consumers, you have the right to understand the differences. Virgin coconut oil dried at lower temperature is more fragrant than coconut oils dried at higher temperatures. 

This is obviously a subtle point going into the details of VCO production, but if the next time you open up a jar of coconut oil and it smells less fragrant than usual, you can identify it as being that the coconut meat was dried at a higher temperature prior to being expelled. 

Recapping Southeast Asia

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Twice a year, our team at The Coconut Cooperative travels across Southeast Asia to visit our partner farmers. Along with performing the regular quality audits, we like to observe best new practices, and see what is working and not working so well. 

This year, we visited the coconut capital of Vietnam and Sri Lanka, known as Ben Tre and Katana, respectively. (Unfortunately it was rainy season in Indonesia and we couldn't make it out there). 

As we have discussed previously, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam are all major producers of coconut products. However, each country is at a different level of development and each country specializes on a couple of different products. 

Historically, the Filipino market is the most mature. Companies such as Franklin Baker, Primex, Peter Paul are major players who produce a full line of coconut products, including, but not limited to coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, coconut flour, and coconut milk. Despite having all of the most current certificates and manufacturing capabilities, it is our humble opinion that the quality of products does leave something to be desired. 

On the other hand, countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam specialize in individual product categories. For example, Indonesia is famous for its coconut sugar, while Sri Lanka specializes in oil, desiccated, flour, milk, and cream, but does very little coconut sugar product. 

In Vietnam, there is a similar diamond-in-the-rough feeling with its coconut products. Though Vietnamese farmers are just starting convert their conventional land to organic, the quality of its coconut is second to none. The quality, color, and aroma of its coconut milk powder, and coconut oil in particular are exceptional. 

For more information on our trip, or our coconut milk powder, please send an email to hello@thecoconutcoop.com. 

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Coconut Beer: Too Much of a Good Thing? (Hint: No)

From coconut oil to coconut water, the popularity of coconuts is ubiquitous. Here’s another way that coconuts are living up to its versatile moniker. For beer cicerones, this is nothing new, but for all others, welcome to the world of coconut beer! 

According to Craft Beer, a “brewer can maneuver coconut in many ways to explore various flavor profiles for his or her beer. While some use coconut to complement the dark flavors in a roasty and chocolatey porter or stout, other brewers and makers are setting out to use coconut to illustrate the versatility in some of their recipes”. 

Sounds good to us. In fact, now is a perfect time to pick up a six-pack of the latest coconut brew. According to Mother’s Brewing, “think midnight on a secluded Caribbean beach. Sweet coconut flavor rides a wave of rich, roasted malt character. This full-bodied sipper satisfies with a tropical warmth for blustery winter nights.” 

With some help from the Beer Street Journal, Craft Beer, and Beer and Brewing, here is a working list of some of the most popular breweries with coconut beers out now. 

Lickinghole Creek (Coconut Quad)

The Bruery (Mash and Coconut) 

Bottle Logic (Stronger Than Fiction)

Big Top Brewing Company (Hawaiian Lion Coconut Porter)

VisionQuest (Coconut IPA) 

Maui Brewing (Coconut Hiwa Porter)

Angry Chair Brewing (German Chocolate Cupcake Stout

Perrin Brewing (No Rules Vietnamese Imperial Porter)

Oskar Blues Brewery (Death By Coconut)

Holy Mountain Brewing (Coconut Midnight Still)

Avery Brewing Co (Coconut Porter)

Sierra Nevada (Coca Coconut Narwhal)

Three Taverns (German Chocolate Helm’s Deep) 

The Veil Brewing (Coconut Hornswoggler)

Dogfish Head (Lupu Luau IPA) 

Schlafly (Coconut Creme Ale) 

Cigar City (El Coco)

Modern Times Beer (Nitro Black House with Coffee, Coconut & Cocoa) 

New Holland Brewing (Dragon’s Milk Reserve) 

Ballast Point (Coconut Victory at Sea) 

Burial Bolo Coconut Brown

Papago Brewing (Coconut Joe)

18th Street (Hunter Coconut Double Milk Stout) 

Westbrook Brewing (Chocolate Coconut Almond Imperial Stout) 

NoDa (Coco Loco)

Goose Island Brewing (Bourbon County Brand Stout) 

New Belgium (Coconut Curry) 

Happy holidays and happy drinking! 

The Coconut Cooperative Press Release

September 11, 2017,

Founded in 2014, The Coconut Cooperative is a leading producer of Organic and Fair Trade coconut products. The Coconut Cooperative sits at the nexus between international food security, farming, and sustainability.

Farmers are the heart of The Coconut Cooperative, and their network of farmers come from all over Southeast Asia. Despite cultural differences and varying levels of technological sophistication, all of their farmers have made a commitment to international food safety standards. Farmers are regularly audited to ensure USDA Organic and Fair-Trade USA compliance. In addition to quality standards, farmers recognize the tremendous importance of protecting the longevity of the coconut ecosystem. Through local partnerships opportunities, The Coconut Cooperative and its farming are replanting new coconut trees to minimize the effects of an aging coconut population.

Supply chain transparency is another pillar of The Coconut Cooperative. Nowadays, consumers are rightly curious about where their food comes from, and farmers should know how their produce is being consumed. Through a partnership with Fair Trade USA, consumers have the opportunity to directly fund local community projects relating to infrastructure, health care, or educational opportunities.

Finally, The Coconut Cooperative empowers the next generation of coconut farmers by modernizing and integrating new technologies into existing farming practices. Whether through mechanized coconut pickers, higher yielding coconut trees, or discovering new product uses, the goal is to bring attention and investment into these farming communities and create opportunities for the younger generation to eventually take the reins from the older generation.

Want to collaborate? The Coconut Cooperative is always looking for chefs, bloggers and other food professionals who are equally passionate about everything coconut. Get ready to join the coconut revolution!  

Original Story

Both Sides of the Coconut Oil Debate

A couple of months ago, the American Health Association released a report attacking the health benefits of coconut oil. As one of the leading suppliers of coconut products into the United States, we felt compelled to share our own thoughts on the matter, which you can read here. There have been points made on both sides, but one particularly well written piece by Kalee Brown over at Collective Evolution sums it up nicely. She argues that while the AHA makes some good points claims, there is a larger media driven disinformation campaign to attack coconut oil. She remarks that "coconut oil is clearly both healthy and unhealthy at times, which is why you should still limit your intake. However, this is true of all oils, because an extremely high fat diet doesn’t always serve your body in the best way possible. If you choose to consume coconut oil, try to make it cold-pressed and organic." Read the full article here

Delicious End of Summer Coconut Recipes

From time to time, we like to share some of the best recipes we find online from both our users and from coconut aficionados from all over the world. Fitting with our theme of "coconut everything", the fine folks at Saveur Magazine have listed some of the most creative and worldly recipes that feature coconut products from around the world. From coconut cookies, to "coconut dumplings" to Danish dream cake, these recipes are a tasty changeup from your regularly scheduled desserts. Don't forget, if you are a chef, blogger, taster, or simply a lover of coconut products, contact us for samples and other partnership opportunities! 

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Found in Hawaii

The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle is an invasive species that is considered extremely a major pest of coconut palm, oil palm and other palm species.  damage and destroy coconut and other types of palm trees. 

Since being found in Guam in 2007, these troublesome beetles have spread across the island in only three years, destroying over 50% of the once thriving coconut industry there. Though there are biological agents used to control the spread of these beetles, a new breed is once again threatening local coconut populations. 

Just this last month, this new breed of beetle was found in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Department of Agriculture is taking immediate steps to survey and restrict the spread of these beetles so that the coconut industry in Hawaii does not fall into the same situation as Guam. 

If you live in the Pearl City Peninsula and discover these invasive species, please contact the State of Hawaii Plant Industry Division

In Defense of Coconut Oil

Last week, a recent American Heart Association Presidential Advisory report released its findings “advising against the use of coconut oil”. The press, ever eager to latch on to a story, started generating headlines such as “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” or another classic, “American Heart Association says Coconut Oil is Bad”. The report, written by the Fellows of the American Heart Association (F.A.H.A.), concluded that “coconut oil significantly increased LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) compared with olive oil” and that “the disconnect between lay and expert opinion can be attributed to the marketing of coconut oil in the popular press”. Okay, so before you go and throw away all of your coconut oil, relax. Take a deep breath, coconut oil isn’t going to kill you. But on the flip side, if you are eating 16oz of coconut oil a day, I would reconsider. 

Okay- I have several complaints regarding this report. I’ll start with number one, which is that all foods can potentially be harmful when over consumed. Like all things, coconut oil should be consumed in moderation. After all, it is an oil and it does have saturated fat. I actually agree with the report’s point about coconut oil being manipulated by overenthusiastic companies. Regarding coconut oil being touted as a “superfood”, “healthy”, or “good for you”, this is nonsense, and classic over-marketing. It’s equivalent to saying, “diet pop doesn’t have sugar. Ergo, it must be healthier and I can drink more of it”. Temper the expectation of what coconut oil is. Yes, its multifunctional. You can cook with it, you can put it in coffee and smoothies, you can even use it as a facial and body moisturizer. But don’t let the marketing craze convince you that it’s a magic bullet and that you can eat unlimited amounts of it. 

Secondly, as I’ve written before, there are many types of coconut oil. There is hydrogenated coconut oil, RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized), there is virgin coconut oil (which has not been chemically altered or treated). The blanket statement put out by the American Heart Association that “we advise against the use of coconut oil” is just that. It’s an over generalization that fails to take into account the different types of coconut oil, If coconut oil has been hydrogenated, of course it’s going to have more saturated fat. In their clinical trials, are researchers testing with hydrogenated coconut oil or virgin coconut oil that has not been chemically altered to have more saturated fats? 

Third, take a step back and look at historical context. We’ve seen this overblowing of the dangers of coconut oil in the early 90’s. This New York Times article from 2011 illustrates the vilification of coconut oil after the 1994 Center for Science in the Public Interest's report that condemned coconut oil at the time. In the aftermath of the report, demand for coconut oil flatlined and it was forgotten about as an ingredient. 

Years later, scientists began backtracking on these accusations leveled at coconut oil, and in fact in 2016 Walter Willett, MD of the Harvard School of Public Health writes that “coconut is a wonderful flavor and there's no problem using coconut oil occasionally.” Now, to be fair, he also writes, "Coconut oil's special HDL-boosting (the so-called good cholesterol) effect may make it "less bad" than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it's still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.” Again, is coconut oil a magic food? No it’s not. Is it as bad for you as the Center for Science in the Public’s Interest would have you believe? Absolutely not. 

Finally, when reading studies like this, always keep an eye out for who seeks to gain from this report being put out. I would also continue to question your assumptions. True, the AHA is an well-respected organization, and the fellows that wrote the report have dedicated their lives to science and cardiology. But who are the major benefactors of the American Heart Association, and who funded this research experiment. Do you believe that this report is looking out for my best interest, or could there be an agenda behind the report. Do any of the major donors have anything to gain from a report like this being put out? This isn’t to call the report out, or to advocate that there is some great coconut conspiracy. But a report like this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and in fact the report creates more questions than it sought to answer. 

The Many Uses of Coconut Oil

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably have noticed the meteoric rise in popularity of coconut oil over the last few years. Health claims of coconut oil are varied and expansive, and since we are not doctors we can neither support nor deny these purported health benefits. That being said, coconut oil is an extremely versatile product- in fact, Dr Axe has compiled a list of 77 uses for coconut oil. At The Coconut Cooperative, we can't vouch for each use case, but based on our team's experience, here are the most common ways we use coconut oil. 

Coconut Oil in Coffee

Skin Moisturizer

Shaving Cream Alternative

Coconut Oil Pulling

Coconut Oil & Coconut Sugar Body Scrub

These are but a handful of the many use cases for coconut oil in your everyday life. As always, we aren't doctors, so we can't speak to the purported health benefits of using coconut oil. What other ways are our consumers using coconut oil? 

 

 

Sri Lankan Drought Still Impacting Yields

Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst droughts in nearly 40 years. According to agronomists, and weather services organizations on the ground, the after effects of the drought are still being felt today. 

With 2016 rainfall levels just a third of what was captured in 2015, and with the country's main reservoirs at lower than normal levels, many facets of Sri Lankan life have been affected, from energy, human services, and agricultural production across almost all region in Sri Lanka. 

Coconut nut prices, which hovered around ~55 rupees/kilo for the last few years, have dramatically risen in price, nearly doubling in price to ~90 rupees/kilo since the worst of the drought. This has translated to double digit % increases in price to the consumer.

This news strikes a blow to the American market. Over the last year, consumers have become keenly aware that the quality and consistency of Sri Lankan coconut products matches, if not exceeds, the same parameters found of Filipino products. 

Though this situation has caused hardship for many farmers and producers of coconut products, producers see this as another setback to overcome. One farmer remarked that "these events occur every 6-8 years" and that although nut prices may not recover to pre-drought levels, the situation will likely stabilize in the next couple of months. 

As the Sri Lankan situation recovers, American consumers and end users of coconut products should expect higher prices from Sri Lanka, followed by a recovery and a return to relative normalcy by summer. 

 

Observations from Expo West, Other Thoughts

What a week from Expo West! This was our third year attending (first two years as Pancake Organics), but our first year as an exhibitor. The crowds have grown each year, as have the number of companies that come to showcase their natural products. 

As we have observed since attending our first show in 2015, coconuts are a popular ingredient and stand alone product at the show. Out of the thousands of exhibitors, by my count I saw a couple hundred companies that were using some kind of coconut ingredient, in both food and cosmetics. Macaroons, lotions, soaps, cookies, granola bars, power bars, cakes, breads, and even jerky. 

At the show we were also reminded of the importance of transparency and sustainability in natural product sector.  As a buyer in the organic coconut world, you become familiar with traders who source ingredients from wherever they can find them. They will guarantee quantity but unfortunately they might not even know where the product is coming from. That obviously raises a huge concern from a quality standpoint. 

But this phenomenon is not just limited to so-called "traders". Even very large, established coconut companies are guilty of this as well. A large ingredient company in Indonesia was recently found to have supplied a large amount of organic coconut sugar, cut with cane sugar, to a chocolate maker in Europe. Even in the United States, a well known coconut water company was found to have mislabeled it's so-called "100% raw" coconut water, and was forced to pay a million dollar fine for misleading consumers. 

But perhaps the most interesting story I heard was about the destructive forces of the coconut rhinoceros beetle found among Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Guam, and other coconut producing countries. According to the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service, the [rhino beetle] attacks coconut palms by boring into the crowns or tops of the tree where it damages growing tissue and feeds on tree sap. The damage can significantly reduce coconut production and kill the tree. 

With an aging population, as well as invasive pests that threaten to kill coconut trees, sustainability and efforts to conserve coconut producing land is now more important than ever. Quarantines, traps, pesticides, and a host of other eradication methods are being tested to combat and control these location beetle populations, but there is more work to be done to effectively control these invasive pests. 

With that, I'll sign out. Find us here for more news on Expo West, and look forward to our new monthly newsletter with important market information on the Southeast Asian coconut market!

 

Observations of Southeast Asian Coconut Countries

Southeast Asia is home to a majority of the worlds organic coconut ingredient production. Three countries stand out in particular- Indonesia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka are notable not only because of their organic coconut ingredient production, but because of country specific idiosyncracies. Throughout our time in Southeast Asia, The Coconut Cooperative team has recorded general observations on each country. I’ll highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of each country, and as a buyer, what to look for when sourcing from each country. 

Indonesia:

Coconut Sugar is the most popular coconut byproduct to come out of Indonesia. That isn’t to say that there isn't desiccated or coconut oil being produced, but there are several identifiable US brands sourcing coconut sugar from Indonesia. The proliferation of new, organic coconut sugar operations also makes prices competitive. But when sourcing from Indonesia, be wary of who you are speaking to. Are you speaking to an aggregator, or someone who works directly with farmers? Or are you speaking with a trader, someone who buys and sells from these aggregators. Buying from traders is more expensive than buying directly from aggregators, and quality is much more volatile (you might be buying organic coconut sugar that’s been cut with cane sugar). On the whole, we’ve noticed that farmers/aggregators from the region are less likely to be locked down by long term contracts, but be wary of who you speak to and about quality guarantees. 

Philippines:

The Filipino organic coconut ingredient market is perhaps the most mature out of these three countries. Coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, coconut oil, and other products are all commonplace. Economies of scale have allowed these companies to mass produce coconut ingredients and in fact the larger companies in the Philippines have long supplied the United States market with both conventional and organic coconut products. But because of these long standing relationships, coconut ingredients from the Philippines are expensive and if you are a new buyer the chances of receiving bulk discounts is low. 

Sri Lanka:

Unlike Indonesia, where coconut sugar is the most recognizable coconut byproduct, Sri Lanka is known for its desiccated coconut and coconut oil. It is important to remember that producing coconut sugar is very different from producing desiccated coconut and coconut oil. In order to produce desiccated coconut, actual nuts must be harvested from the coconut tree. However, the production of coconut sugar involves cutting away the coconut blossom. Instead of harvesting the nut, a coconut sugar farmer will harvest the sap from the coconut blossom. That being said, Sri Lanka is similar to Indonesia in that it’s organic coconut ingredient market is relatively young and expanding quickly. For the buyer this means better pricing, but it also means an opportunity to be sure of quality standards. 

As a final note, please note that on the whole, all parties that we have interacted with in these countries has been very positive. Indonesians, Filipinos, and Sri Lankans are all incredibly kind-hearted people. When we have made on-site visits, we have been treated with nothing but respect. But, just as there are bad apples in any country, there are those who are less than moral. As with any new supplier, ask for references, or others who can vouch for doing business with the group. At The Coconut Cooperative, we pride ourselves on working with farmers who share the same values as us. Honesty, transparency, and a passion for showcasing the finest coconut ingredients to the entire world. 

A New Coconut Triangle in Sri Lanka

Last July, a special coconut development project in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka was announced and initiated by the Minister of Plantation Industries. The stated goal is to develop infrastructure, model coconut gardens in the territories recovered after the Sri Lankan Civil War.

In our formative years, as we researched the coconut supply across Southeast Asia, we quickly identified the Coconut Triangle near Colombo as one of the most productive coconut farming areas, not only Sri Lanka, but across SE Asia. The three districts consisting of Kurunegala, Puttalam, and Colombo cover about 66% of all total coconut acreage in the country. 

Coconuts and its many byproducts are an important part of the Sri Lankan agriculture market, consisting of almost 12% of all agriculture produce. In 2016, coconut production was estimated at 3,600 million nuts. And even though Sri Lanka is the world's fifth largest producer of coconuts, global demand is outpacing supply and the Ministry of Plantation hopes to double the coconut output in the next ten years. 

Rehabilitating and reinvesting in the land and the local communities devastated by the Civil War is an important step to increasing Sri Lanka's coconut productivity.  From 1983 to 2009, the battle between the Tamil Tigers and government forces prevented any sort of agricultural development for export, and the health and educational levels of local communities suffered. 

In conjunction with the Ministry of Plantation, the Coconut Cultivation Board is expected to participate alongside the Coconut Development Authority and the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka. Nearly 100,000 acres of fertile land will be rehabilitated and redressed to coconut cultivation. 

This second coconut triangle will consist of the areas of Jaffna, Mannar and Mulaitvu Districts. The Plantation Industries has allocated ~800 million rupees to the project, which includes 300,000 new coconut plants and other development projects funded by government backed loans and subsidies. 

In the next couple of years, look to this region as the next hotspot of coconut development in the Southeast Asia, and look for The Coconut Cooperative to play a role in investing and working alongside the farmers in this region. 

Fair Trade Projects in the Coconut Triangle

Last year, we launched a project with Cocotana Coconut Products and Fair Trade USA to certify our farmers out in Sri Lanka. Every year, hundreds of Cocotana farmers organize as a Fair Trade Committee to strengthen their coconut communities with innovative programs designed to find solutions to pressing issues they face. 

This year, farmers focused on health, human services, and education. The FTC collectively decided to invest in coconut trees for workers, providing glasses and other medical services to those in need, and distributing new books, schools bags, and stationery for young students. In addition, a generous donation was made to the Teresa church. 

Fair Trade Committee

Fair Trade producers earn more for their products and in addition to the community development projects we have undertaken, this year the FTC is focused on teaching new essential skills such as incremental quality improvements, business management and economic education, market linkage and new access to capital. 

As our network for Fair Trade certified farmers grows in the upcoming years, we at The Coconut Cooperative are committed to upholding the values of community empowerment and cultivating a global trade model that benefits the farmers, workers, consumers, and the earth.