As research questions the role of saturated fats in heart health, they may unwittingly be restoring consumers’ faith in coconut oils and spreads, said the report.
It said sales could be boosted further by the success of the coconut water market, and coconut as a food ingredient, as well as by consumer familiarity in non-food sectors such as skin and hair care.
“With interest driven by a mix of factors as varied as health, beauty, vegetarian baking and the rise of ethnic foods, coconut oil has the potential to be a star of the[…] oil and spread sectors,” said David Turner, global food and drink analyst at the research organisation.
He said oils and spreads product development in Europe has grown strongly in recent years and was responsible for up to a quarter of all new food product launches in 2014, up from 8% the previous year. The market for coconut oil has also been doubling in each of the last three years, he added.
“Perhaps the strongest driver in the resurgence of coconut oil is that there has been change in view regarding the food’s healthfulness.”
Health debate helping sales
Turner said that concerns over coconut oil consumption had always been historically significant, given its high saturated fat content. At just over 86%, coconut oil is among the highest in saturated fat of commonly available edible oils.
However, many “natural” food categories have benefitted recently from debate over the effect of saturated fat consumption and its role in increasing heart disease.
The main type of fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is believed to help raise levels of “good” high-density lipoproteins, a fact that oil and margarine manufacturers tend to highlight as low or reduced cholesterol claims on their products, said Turner.
Playing catch-up with US
However, coconut spreads in Europe may be lacking the backing of big brands, unlike in the US, where popular food brands Earth Balance and Olivio have been using coconut as an ingredient in margarine and butter.
“[We are] yet to see any significant brands launching a coconut spread in Europe. Yet it could be a potential development area as margarine sales are struggling in many European markets,” said Turner.
Many coconut oil launches also hinted at the dual potential of cooking and for use as a skin and hair restorative. “However, taking more of a leaf from skincare packaging may help encourage greater trial,” he added.
Popularity of coconut ingredients
The use of coconut as an ingredient in new food and drink launches across Europe rose by 64% in 2014 on the previous year said Turner, who added it has also seen a fivefold increase in the last four years.
Part of this is because of coconut water, its use as a bakery ingredient and a greater acceptance of Asian food in the West. “Opportunities exist for coconut oil brands to create a clear, ownable proposition, particularly as cooking oil…Though use with ethnic food, potential for vegan baking and associations with beauty products will all have boosted coconut oil sales,” he said.