Coconut oil’s sales are surging thanks to its appeal as a healthier replacement for butter.
Nutiva rolled out its new organic buttery coconut oil earlier this year. Photo from Nutiva.
As more consumers seek out nutritious alternatives to butter, margarine, and traditional cooking oils, up-and-coming oils, from avocado oil to pecan oil, are quickly shooting up the sales charts. But one of the biggest breakout ingredients in the category is coconut oil, thanks to its solid nutritional profile and easy use as a butter substitute.
U.S. coconut oil sales reached more than $239 million in 2015, according to SPINS*. And while that’s still less than the total sales posted by category leaders canola oil and soybean oil, coconut oil sales climbed 31.3% in 2015 compared to the previous year. Canola and soybean oil, on the other hand, saw sales decrease by 5.7% and 9%, respectively, during the same period.
“Interest in organic virgin coconut oil has been rapidly growing over the past decade,” says Meg Carlson, president and CEO of Prosperity Organic Foods. Since 2012, Prosperity Organic Foods has been marketing its MELT Organic products-featuring virgin coconut oil, hi-oleic sunflower oil, and flaxseed oil-as a “luscious butter improvement that is truly good for you.” (Recently, the company even introduced a probiotic buttery spread containing the Ganeden BC30 Bacillus coagulans probiotic strain.)
“Consumers have become educated about the nutritional profile and benefits of eating organic virgin coconut oil rather than GMO-derived vegetable oils like soy and canola,” explains Carlson.
Perceptions of Saturated Fats
One marketing challenge for coconut oil may be its high saturated fat content, but not all saturated fats are created equal, says Carlson. The saturated fats in Prosperity’s organic virgin coconut oil do not elevate LDL cholesterol and are rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which have been researched for benefits to metabolism and thyroid activity, explains Carlson.
Consumers seem to be getting the message, as Prosperity Organic Foods has “already seen a significant change in the perception of saturated fats,” Carlson says.
John Roulac, founder and CEO of Nutiva, agrees that consumer perception of saturated fats has changed since Nutiva began selling coconut oil back in 2003.
“As thousands of doctors now know, there’s no direct connection between saturated fat and heart disease,” Roulac explains. Nutiva’s coconut oil sales have “exceeded all expectations,” says Roulac, and in January the company debuted a new organic buttery coconut oil.
The potential positive health benefits of coconut oil are also outweighing any negative perception of saturated fats, suggests Mary Ann Siciliano, national sales manager for oils supplier Arista Industries (Wilton, CT). She points to the “unique combination of fatty acids, antioxidants, and phenol compounds” in Arista’s organic extra virgin coconut oil, which makes it a popular choice for consumers looking to improve cholesterol levels or lower the risk of heart disease.
Works Like Butter
One of the biggest factors in coconut oil’s favor is undoubtedly its ability to easily substitute for butter in a variety of applications. With a similar melt point as butter and unobtrusive flavor, it works on everything from popcorn to steamed vegetables, says Nutiva’s Roulac.
“Organic extra virgin coconut oil can tolerate higher heat than many other oils,” explains Arista’s Siciliano. “It has a smoke point of around 350 °F, and it is great for sautÃ©ing and frying. It can be used in place of shortening or butter in a variety of baked goods, including cakes, candy, cookies, pastry, and pies.”
It’s no wonder then that coconut oil is giving canola and soybean oils a run for their money.
* Data includes natural supermarkets (excluding Whole Foods Market), specialty supermarkets, and conventional multi-outlet channels. Comparison of 52 weeks ending 12/27/15 with 52 weeks ending 12/28/14