We love transparency in food labeling. FoodFacts.com believes that every consumer has the right to know exactly what’s in the foods and beverages we’re purchasing. It’s necessary for so many reasons — from food allergies, to ingredient concerns, to the health requirements many consumers must adhere to under doctors’ advice.
Often there are products introduced that we all feel good about — products with known health benefits that become trends almost instantly. Unfortunately, some mainstream manufacturers begin production and adulterate those healthy products, offering additional ingredients that consumers aren’t expecting. Almond milk is a great example of this. An otherwise healthy trend, many brands of almond milk feature ingredients that health conscious consumers aren’t comfortable with. It appears that the same may be true for coconut water.
iTi Tropicals, an importer of 100% pure coconut water in bulk, is alleging that as much as 15% of the imported coconut water contains added sugars that are not being declared on the product labels.
Lawrenceville, NJ-based iTi engaged an independent laboratory, Krueger Food Laboratories, to determine if commercially available coconut waters are properly labeled. “iTi is concerned that the continued sale of coconut waters with undeclared added sugars and other ingredients threatens to jeopardize consumer confidence in the category,” according to a statement from the company. “iTi, therefore, feels it is incumbent on the industry to take proactive steps to put an end to this misleading practice. By releasing the summary of the results of these analyses, iTi hopes that retailers and brand-holders will strive to ensure the ingredients added to coconut water are properly labeled.”
iTi released its survey of market data revealing that coconut water products with added sweeteners represent about 75% of the coconut water market.
“Consumers may not realize there are essentially two categories of coconut water products: (1) those with no added sugars and (2) those with added sugars. It may be challenging for consumers to identify all products with added sugars because testing by a reputable laboratory revealed that some of the sweetened coconut water products, which represent about 15% of the market, fail to declare added sugars,” the iTi statement said.
The market leaders in the unsweetened category represent 25% of all volume sold, according IRI data, and include brands such as Coco Libre, Naked, Purity Organics, Zico, and Zola, which supply 100% pure coconut waters without added sugars declared on the label or found in the products, according to iTi.
“Consumers of these products are demonstrating an interest in the pure coconut water taste and the lower levels of total sugars they provide. As consumers continue to look for products without added sugars, we believe the unsweetened coconut water is poised for rapid growth. For that growth to occur, companies will need to properly label added sugars to allow consumers to distinguish the sweetened and the unsweetened varieties of coconut water. Unfortunately, our testing of coconut water beverages in the market has revealed that numerous brands that are not properly labeling their products with added sugars,” the iTi statement said.
The added sugar category represents 75% of all volume sold and includes brands such as Vita Coco and Goya who combined represent 60% of all volume sold in the United States. These products declare the added sugars and generally contain more sugars than the 100% pure coconut water. For example, according to the product label of the market leader Vita Coco, it contains “less than 1% natural fruit sugar.” While one percent may sound like a small number, it can represent approximately 25% of the total sugars in the product.
In addition, iTi identified 12 canned and bottled brands packed in Thailand that contain undeclared added sugars. These inexpensive added sugars sweeten the products and help mask the taste of the naturally occurring minerals in pure coconut water and in some cases are even used to replace coconut water sugars. The practice offers unfair economic advantages to the perpetrators; it also hurts iTi (which markets only 100% pure coconut water in bulk, as an ingredient, with no added sugars) and it also harms companies that properly label their products. This latter group represents approximately 15% of the total market and brings the total sweetened category to 75%, according to iTi.
This particular story goes beyond the adulteration of almond milk with ingredients like carrageenan, because that carrageenan is identifiable on labels. It’s disturbing to understand that there are brands of coconut water avoiding the declaration of added sugar on their labels. This flies in the face of regulations, misleads consumers and adds to the already existing problem of sugar consumption. The last thing health conscious consumers need or want is to unknowingly purchase products that introduce more sugar into their diets. This study offers valuable insight on what can be going on behind a nutrition label that manufacturers don’t want to reveal.