More and more people who are trying to be health-conscious in recent years are turning to quality sources of the healthy fats that are found in coconuts. Although it has gotten an unfair bad rap for several decades from what I’m sure are well-meaning health “experts” who foolishly warned the public against the dangers of consuming this natural food loaded with saturated fats, the research on the health BENEFITS of things like coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water can no longer be ignored by those seeking optimal health. If you want to learn more about the myriad of reasons why you should be eating more coconut in your diet, then simply listen to my November 2009 podcast interview with coconut health expert Dr. Bruce Fife from the Coconut Research Center (in fact, Dr. Fife will be making a return visit to the podcast later this year sharing about his new book demonstrating how coconut-based foods can help reverse Alzheimer’s disease). But now supporters of coconut oil and other healthy coconut-based foods have reason to be greatly concerned about this hot health commodity–there are worldwide shortages of the precious coconut supply due to four main factors: weather irregularities, increased consumer demand, the depressed economy and higher fuel costs, and rising food prices.
According to this January 10, 2011 Financial Express column on the coconut shortages, coconut oil is at an all-time high and up over 85% in cost from a year ago. Here’s a graph from AgMarket that illustrates how prices have nearly doubled since 2010:
The following graph from coconut oil manufacturer Nutiva shows just how stark the rise has been over the last 12 months with the trend not looking too good for people who want to keep coconut oil in their diet:
Brian Shilhavy, Founder and CEO of coconut foods manufacturer Tropical Traditions, said this worldwide shortage is a reality due to many factors.
The El Nino effect in the most recent season has decreased yields.
The major coconut-growing regions of the Philippines, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, have all been through some horrendous dry spells which have cut coconut production by nearly one-third. Analysts are holding out hope that this will improve by the end of 2011, but the future outlook is still quite murky at this point. Weather has also played a role in other regions driving up the cost of many commodities which in turn has contributed to an increase in world food prices as well.
While many of us have been sharing compelling information about why coconut-based foods should be a part of a healthy diet for many years, it now seems the message is finally taking root and consumers are increasing demand. This added consumer pressure on the coconut market has baffled coconut growers who have been led to believe that saturated fat is somehow harmful to your health, Shilhavy added.
As a result, as coconut trees grew older they were cut down and not replanted for more than 30 years now. The tide of opinion regarding the health benefits of coconut oil has slowing been turning back around since we started publishing the truth on the Internet in year 2000, and this year even mainstream media sources are beginning to give positive coverage to coconut oil.
He added that much of the coconut research is now being published in coconut-producing countries as evidenced here and here, for example, as a way to encourage them to keep harvesting this healthy tree nut. Add to these shortages in coconut oil the higher demand for coconut water and coconut palm sugar which is leading directly to coconut shortages and an unsustainable agricultural environment as Shilhavy has sounded the alarm about on his blog. He explains why this is so critical.
The problem with coconut water is that the most nutritious water is from young coconuts, before the coconut is fully developed. When the water is taken from unripe green coconuts, there is no meat to be used for dried coconut or to make coconut oil. Major soft-drink companies are now going into coconut-producing companies and buying up young coconuts just to make coconut water products.
Shilhavy says the responsible thing to do for sustainability of the coconut harvest is to use the water from mature coconuts and then allow processing of coconut oil from there. He notes the water is “not as nutritious” but allows for “a much more responsible way of approaching the demand for coconut water.” Coconut water distributors are looking at coconut-producing countries around the world to meet the growing demand since Brazil literally destroyed their coconut crop making unsustainable coconut water.
Additionally, another contributor to the rising price of coconut oil is increased fuel costs which have forced the use of coconut oil as a biofuel. As countries like the Philippines and Sri Lanka have attempted to deal with their own financial woes due to the global recession, it has left the future of coconut-based food availability in jeopardy. This is not a simple problem that will fix itself overnight and the coconut consumer is going to likely feel it in their wallet if they haven’t already.
Nutiva has responded to the rise in coconut oil pricing by raising the price on their larger sizes while maintaining the price on their the 15-ounce and 29-ounce sizes. Tropical Traditions has not yet raised their retail pricing and they evaluate this very fluid and serious issue that could directly impact the future availability of coconut oil and other healthy coconut-based foods. Since many coconut palm trees take ten years to begin producing fruit after planting, this presents a real problem. While there are some hybrid varieties that are able to grow in just five years, Shilhavy says “we are not convinced yet that the nutritional quality is the same and need to further research this if those breeds become more prevalent.”
It will take many years for supply chains to catch up, and we may see the value of coconut quite literally be worth its weight in gold.
The best tip I can give you if you want to have coconut oil for your healthy low-carb lifestyle is to try to stock up now. I just got a big order of coconut oil recently and the expiration on the label isn’t until late 2012/early 2013. This should hold me until then, but it appears unless something drastic happens that we could go several years before new coconut-based foods are available to the consumer. I felt it was important to bring this information to your attention so you are not caught by surprise when you try to go find some coconut oil and availability is scarce.