Marketing and true science slosh around in this story like a mug full of coconut milk.
This story seems to want to be many things. It wants to explain the rising number of products with coconut-related ingredients being sold to customers. It wants to describe the potential money to be made from these products. And it wants to tell readers whether these products actually have any health benefits. It does none of these things particularly well, but it is the least effective when it comes to the health claims.
If coconuts truly are becoming a major source of sales in the so-called natural health foods sector — and this story does not convince us that they are — then readers deserve a careful analysis of the evidence supporting their benefits. As with pomegranate juice and acai berries, both of which are mentioned in this story, “miracle foods” are often more marketing than anything else. This story, unfortunately, helps the coconut product companies get away with a lot of free marketing and nary a single tough question.
For a story that attempts to wow readers with unsupported claims from third hand sources about the big money to be made in coconuts, this story is very light on any cost information for consumers. The story says, for example, that while the coconut water market sits at “$100 million annually right now,” one company alone will do “$100 million in sales or more in sales” next year. But there is not a single price provided for any specific products nor any mention of how these prices compare to other foods and beverages that contain similar nutritional value.
For all the claims being made in this story, not a single benefit is quantified.
The story attempted to do one thing helpful for readers. It provided a comparison, of sorts, of different coconut parts. It says, for example, that “
One tablespoon of coconut oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat, 12.5 grams of which is saturated. A tablespoon of butter, by comparison, contains 102 calories and 11.5 grams of fat; 7.3 of those grams are saturated.” But it provides no context about what this means. We read this and assumed that we should avoid all coconut oil products and stick with butter, but the story hypes coconut oil and coconut milk so much that readers are likely to miss this nuance.
One quote in the story refers to calories, but the matter of high-calorie food of any sort, including coconut oil, contributing to obesity is not explained.
It is not clear from this story that there is any evidence to evaluate about coconut products, but we presume that coconuts or coconut derivatives have been studied. The story also spends considerable space talking about electrolytes, fat, cholesterol without quantifying the benefits (or harms) of any of them or analyzing the claims being made in any meaningful way. For example, in discussing coconut oil, it starts out by saying that it has received “mixed reviews” and quotes a Denver dietitian who says that coconut oil contains saturated fat that “clogs your arteries and is not good for heart health.” We’re not sure she is the best source on heart health, but this is good information nonetheless. Then the story muddies the waters, though, by saying that coconut oil fats are composed of “medium-chain fatty acids” that are “more healthy” and that they are “high in lauric acid, which many believe acts as an antimicrobial, helping prevent viruses, fungi and parasites.” By comparing well established, proven medical evidence on cholesterol to spurious, unfounded claims about what “many believe” the story provides readers no hierarchy of evidence. Marketing and true science slosh around in this story like a mug full of coconut milk.
The story portrays average consumers as somehow suffering from deficiencies which need a “coconut cure.” It quoted a publisher of a trade publication saying, “In the past couple of years a couple of brands have figured out the right angle — electrolytes and hydration.” But there was no discussion of whether electrolytes and hydration are issues that the average American needs to worry about – and “treat” – regularly.
The story quotes a lot of people. Unfortunately, most of them are connected to the sales or marketing of coconut products in some way. Daniel Fabricant, vice president for government and scientific affairs at the Natural Products Association, a trade association in Washington says coconut products have everything a healthy consumer would want. “It’s a holistic approach.” “It’s an effective drink for rehydration that doesn’t bring in the added sugars and the additives,” says Dani Little, dietitian for a Whole Foods Market in Boulder. Also quoted are: John Craven, the founder of Bevnet.com, a trade publication for the beverage industry. Arthur Gallego, a spokesman for the New York-based Vita Coco; Laura Sauls, a spokeswoman for Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based Zico and Kevin Conrad, a sales executive with GoFast, a Denver energy drink that now includes a version containing coconut-water concentrate.That leaves just Jessica Crandall, a Denver dietitian who is president of the Colorado Dietetic Association. The closest we get to any medical sources is Crandall saying that she “was meeting with a cardiologist recently, and he said he doesn’t advise (coconut oil) for any clients.” Note the use of the word “clients.” Everyone is being sold coconut oil or not sold something in this story. The last word goes to a Whole Foods executive. “It’s healthy — and simple, too. That’s one of the attractions, said Tom Rich, who is in charge of grocery operations for Whole Foods Rocky Mountain region. “It’s something you don’t have to figure out,” he said. “People know what it is and where it grows. It’s simple all the way around.” “
The only comparisons we saw in this story were between coconut oil and butter. That was one line in a box that ran with the story and not enough to provide any meaningful comparisons to existing alternatives. Overall, readers are not given the information they would need to make informed comparisons between coconut-based products and other foods and drinks.
The sheer volume of people within the retail food industry who seem excited about this trend makes us believe that a lot of stores are following this fad, which means coconut products are widely available.
The story doesn’t make it clear how novel coconut products are or whether they offer any benefits not offered by a regular, balanced diet or why. There is certainly nothing new about coconuts. The story does not explain whether there is any new information that provides a rationale for increased attention to coconuts or whether the attention is fueled entirely by marketing.
The story does not rely on a news release. But we wouldn’t be surprised if future news releases and other marketing efforts won’t be spawned by such coverage.