Consumers are apparently going nuts for coconut oil, the edible oil derived from the flesh and kernel of mature coconuts, it has emerged.
Whole Foods, the high street grocer specialising in healthy and organic produce, had its strongest ever month for coconut oil sales last month. The retailer sold six tons of coconut oil across several brands in the UK.
The wonder-product, which has had endorsement from high-profile names such as Stella McCartney, the fashion designer, and Sienna Miller, the actress, has many weird and wonderful applications, which include cooking, eyelash extension, even wound care, as well as a hair and skin moisturiser.
According to Whole Foods buyer Daniel Rodriguez, “We have seen the market at least doubling each year for the last three years.”
Jonathan Newman, founder of Chi, which produces coconut products, launched a coconut oil in August 2013. This year, the company is selling 11,000 units a month at £9.99 a bottle, and will generate £1m in sales from the oil product alone.
The growth trajectory is steep because the West is playing catch up with Asian countries, said Mr Newman. “It’s been used as a superfood for generations in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines,” he said. “We’re just late to the party.”
When models were reported to be eating spoonfuls of coconut oil to speed up metabolic rate, that also caused a stir, he added. “I put a spoonful in my coffee every morning for the same reason,” he claimed.
Louise Ingham, a product manager at heath food chain Holland & Barrett, belives that the nation’s improved relationship with saturated fat is behind the sudden boom. “Until recent years, we were all steering clear of coconuts, perceiving them to be unhealthy due to their high content of saturated fat,” she said.
“However, there are many different types of saturated fats, and not all are believed to be unhealthy,” she continued. “Lauric Acid, a saturated fat that coconut is rich in, is thought to help increase levels of good cholesterol, making it a popular cooking ingredient. And then there’s the water. After celebs started using it to suppress appetite and to replace essential electrolytes lost during exercise, the coconut’s publicity did an about turn.”
There are now a raft of UK start-ups looking to cash in on coconut oil. Whole Foods’ Mr Rodriguez said, “I don’t exaggerate when I say we have a new brand presented to us every week.”
Manufacturers range from mainstream brands such as Jax Coco, which turns over £20m a year, to sports supplement supplierBodybuildingWarehouse.co.uk, which has reported a 67pc increase in sales of its Pure Organic Virgin Coconut Oil in the past three months.
“When we started the business in 2008 there was next to no demand, it wasn’t even on the horizon,” said founder Kieran Fisher. “A few health food stores sold it, but most of the market was protein powders, protein bars and the like. Now it’s a major staple. We’ve had to increase our production quota three times and have run out of stock twice.”
Market analyst Mintel said coconut oil in food and beverages accounted for 26pc of food and drink new product launches in 2012, up from 15pc in 2008. References to coconut oil used exclusively as oil grew 780pc between 2008 and 2012, it said.
Julian Highley, global director at customer research firm Dunnhumby added: “We have seen a four-fold rise in interest in coconut oil since the end of 2011. We anticipate this will be a trend that continues to grow.”
Rebecca Goodyear, a health and beauty PR who works with a number of coconut oil brands, including US-based brand Nutiva, which saw UK sales rise 40pc last year, said that the coconut oil boom is here to stay.
“One only has to look at the number of successful brands on the shelves, and the crossover from natural health stores into the supermarket channels, to realise coconut oil is becoming a mainstay consumer product.”
The new trend follows hot on the heels of the coconut water phenomenon. Sales of coconut water, which is believed to be packed with essential nutrients, soared 114pc last year, making it the UK’s fastest-growing soft drink.
By Rebecca Burn-Callander, Enterprise Editor The Telegraph