Manufacturers are combining candy with coconut and drawing a diverse cross-section of the population, from the health conscious and those concerned with clean labels to millennials and moms.
Hardly new to candy, the fruit’s popularity has skyrocketed during the past few years and shows no signs of slowing, according to Dana Ginsburg, Bare Snacks director of marketing.
“When the trend started, the nutritional benefits of coconut generated a lot of buzz,” she explains. “We saw coconut in everything from water, milk, oils and snacks. The trend has evolved and so has the idea of coconut as a health food — it’s grown beyond a niche audience and into mainstream grocers.”
Benefits go beyond being high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, as the ingredient naturally suits shoppers following restrictive diets such as gluten-free and vegan as well as the ingredient-conscious. Of course, to meet the needs of these consumers, a mindful approach to formulation and other components is needed, Ginsburg tells Candy & Snack TODAY.
To accomplish this, Bare Snacks’ Non-GMO Project-verified coconut chips are made from fresh fruit baked with light seasoning and no preservatives or added oil. The San Francisco-based snack supplier seems to be hitting the mark with consumers, as Ginsburg relates that since launching in 2014, the company has had tremendous response with 94 percent year-on-year growth in grocery.
In addition to its healthy perception, coconut’s flexibility as an ingredient has also lead to increased use, according to Rick Harris, President of BBX Sweet Holdings, LLC, which owns coconut patty and bites producer Anastasia Confections, Inc.
“There are a lot of ways to use coconut, both from a texture and taste standpoint,” he explains, adding that Anastasia leverages a full continuum of ways to use the fruit, from patties with highly visible coconut to fully enrobed coconut pieces in its bites items.
Another factor moving coconut products is the tropical allure, according to Harris, who notes the fruit gives consumers the feeling of escaping to a sun-drenched locale.
“The founder of Anastasia Confections saw 25 years ago that folks from around the world came to Florida and wanted to take a piece back,” he tells Candy & Snack TODAY. “That is why he developed the coconut patty. Nearly 100 million people visit Florida from around the world every year and are taking those products back. Now they are seeking them out in local supermarkets.”
He adds Anastasia has experienced sales gains that mirror the interest for coconut in the overall marketplace.
“It’s been very strong growth for us and frankly why we consider the company one of the gems in our portfolio,” Harris says. “We expect it to grow during the next decade, especially as we expand these products more nationally.” In addition to Anastasia, BBX Sweet Holdings, a subsidiary of investment firm BBX Capital Corp., owns a number of candy companies, including Kencraft Inc., Jer’s Chocolates, Droga Chocolates and Hoffman Chocolates.
“Coconut in confectionery hits the sweet spot intersecting better for you and indulgence,” says Candy & Snack TODAY Trends Editor Joan Steuer, of Chocolate Marketing, LLC.
She says coconut’s use extends beyond simple inclusions, with coconut oils being used in salty snacks and the fruit’s sugar serving as a sweetener. Steuer notes that while the jury is still out on coconut sugar’s “super low glycemic” status, the perception of better-for-you persists.
While coconut has been a “super trend” during recent years, Steuer notes in the past it was a polarizing flavor, such as licorice or ginger. “People either love it or don’t, but if they see it as healthy they’ll like it a little more,” she adds.
Chuck Moore, president of Hoffman Chocolates, agrees on the past “take it or leave it” nature of coconut and the fruit’s health attributes in besting these perceptions. He points to the rise of coconut water in the fitness community as one catalyst for the sector’s growth.
“When you blend it with dark chocolate it makes a taste that is very popular, and there are a lot of studies talking about the health benefits of both dark chocolate and coconut,” Moore says.
Again pointing to coconut water as a trend starter, Casie McKinney, assistant brand manager at Hawaiian Host, Inc., says: “It’s the one ingredient that says tropical and has tons of nutrients that consumers are looking for. Because of its properties and versatility, manufacturers are introducing it into other products and categories.”
With its health perception and ability to enhance clean label appeal, it’s no surprise that sources agree moms and millennials are moved by coconut-containing products.
“You get some men showing interest in coconut products, but it’s mostly women and millennials,” Steuer says. “Moms are the gatekeepers, and coconut products tend to be less sweet and more flavorful. They’re perceived as more wholesome for kids.”
She adds that in addition to the intrinsic nutrients of coconut, many candy items leveraging the fruit are smaller compared with more traditional chocolate bars.
“There’s that portion control attribute, you feel like you can eat these products more frequently and not just as a dessert replacement,” Steuer explains. “People aren’t looking at them like a candy bar, but more of a snack for anytime. It hits the indulgence button too, but without any guilt — even when it’s paired with chocolate.”
In addition, most companies putting out coconut products strive for clean ingredients lists and couple this with great brand story telling and traceability, all of which hit the mark with millennial consumers, Steuer reports.
Bare Snack’s Ginsburg reinforces this, explaining consumers naturally gravitate to the company’s items because they can clearly see and understand the ingredients panel.
Hawaiian Host’s McKinney notes that across the industry the use of fruit and chocolate has exploded with brands such as Mars Chocolate North American’s Dove and The Hershey Co.’s Brookside. Yet, she explains the company’s tropical fruit inclusions help serve as a point of differentiation, adding: “It makes the piece more unique when tropical fruits you don’t see every day are used.”
In addition to the versatility in format coconut offers, it’s complements category flavor trends, according to Bare Snack’s Ginsburg, who notes consumer palates are becoming more sophisticated.
“Sweet and salty flavor profiles have been a big hit when it comes to coconut,” she explains. “It’s exciting to pair flavors that wouldn’t otherwise be anticipated, but result in a simply delicious snack.”
For example, Bare Snacks Sweet ‘n Heat Crunchy Coconut Chips, which balance the contrasting flavors with a kick of spice, while maintaining a clean label.
Ginsburg adds consumers also grab Bare Snack products for ancillary uses beyond snacking, including adding coconut chips to salad, trail mix and yogurt. “Coconut has a flavor that lends itself so well with beloved flavors such as honey, fruits and nuts,” Ginsburg adds.
Hawaiian Host also drives additional eating occasions to move sales by offering consumers ideas for alternative usage, according to McKinney. “The best way is to offer up a lot of recipes and give consumers a reason to use coconut,” she says.
While the fruit’s versatility lends itself to a plethora of pairings, chocolate is a clear frontrunner. Leveraging this, Bare Snacks released Chocolate Bliss Crunchy Coconut Chips.
Steuer notes dark chocolate tends to be the most popular variety to pair with coconut, but she expects more milk chocolate and caramel coconut pairings to begin popping up.
“Then there is the tropical, which I think is going to continue to be an emerging trend with pineapple coconut, ginger coconut and even coconut bacon,” Steuer says. “That sort of thing is big right now in the natural channel.”
Anastasia also delves into coconut’s flavor-pairing flexibility, Harris says, explaining the company has leveraged this with trending flavors. For example, the company uses the popularity of Key lime, a staple in Florida, and converges it into its coconut patties.
“Not unlike taffy, there are a lot of applications when using coconut as a base,” he explains. “It lends itself to many kinds of confections, then you start adding flavors that make sense with coconut.”
To this end, he says the company has experimented with banana and rum flavors, keeping with coconut’s tropical theme to “combine the interest in the exotic as well as the perception of where coconut is in the health and wellness realm.”
Away from simple pairings, Steuer foresees coconut and its many forms serving as replacements for classic candy inclusions.
“A natural toasted coconut is going to be used more in place of crisped rice and that sort of ingredient,” she explains. “There is a growing desire in mainstream markets for better-for-you items across categories and coconut has gone from a fatty villain to a healthy fat hero, at least in perception.” CST
A version of this article originally appeared in the November/ December issue of Candy & Snack TODAY