My favorite thing to impulse buy in the grocery store is coconut water. I don’t know what it is about this stuff- I love everything coconut, yes, but there’s something about coconut water in particular that is refreshing and makes me feel like I am sitting on a beach with a tiny-umbrella-drink in my hand while a cool ocean breeze blows across the sand. Oh good lord, that sounds so cheesy doesn’t it?
But anyway, I love me some coconut water. And apparently Im not alone- sales of coconut water by many estimates have doubled in just the last few years. And yet, its a guilty pleasure. Coconut water is definitely an outlier in my quest to eat more local and with a lower carbon footprint. There are no coconut groves, to my knowledge, in the Pacific Northwest- actually I don’t even think they exist in the mainland US at all, at least not on a commercial scale.
Nope, generally you have to go to southeast Asia to source coconut water commercially, and that is where most companies are going, including Vita Coco (Dr. Pepper-Snapple beverage group), Zico (Coca-Cola) and O.N.E. Coconut Water (PepsiCo). If those corporate entities don’t exactly fill you with the sense that these are brands that are going to be looking to lower their carbon footprint or prioritize the ethics of sourcing their ingredients over their profit margins, well, then welcome to the club. Plus, most of these brands are sold in tetrapaks, which are not recyclable around us (but they may well be by you). Plus, in all honesty, I’ve tried each of these brands and I don’t like any of them- they simply don’t taste good to me.
The kind of coconut water, up until recently, that I went with was the ones mostly written in Thai or some other language I can’t read that are sold in the Asian section of our supermarket. For some reason, I find these brands to be much tastier. But I can’t tell anything about the sourcing of the ingredients. So I was thrilled to encounter a new brand of coconut water recently at my store called Harmless Harvest, which holds itself forth as being both fair trade AND organic AND yummy. Could this be my holy grail of coconut water that is yummy for me and good for the environment??
The answer is a qualified yes. Yes, I really like the taste of this coconut water (this could be in part because in order to prevent microbial growth Harmless Harvest pressurizes rather than heat-treats their coconut water, while the latter approach which can alter the water’s taste is taken by many other large-scale commercial entities). And yes, it turns out that this company is pretty darned committed to doing the right thing by its sourcing. It works with local farmers using traditional, pesticide-free and low impact methods of harvest and pays a higher price for them, for which they have been credited for raising coconut prices across Thailand for farmers. This is good. Plus, their product is packaged into PET bottles (#1 plastic) one of the most recyclable of plastics, that I can actually recycle here.
BUT. We are still talking about a product that gets shipped thousands of miles and held in refrigeration in my grocery store for my individual-use convenience. We are talking about a product that, as is rightly pointed out, is 97% water that is being shipped these thousands of miles and refrigerated (apparently you can skip the water and buy the dehydrated form and make it yourself- but that doesn’t usually fill my impulse-buy, immediate gratification niche Im going for 🙂 ). There is no getting around the fact that coconut water is simply not a locavorous product, and its not a low-carbon product. But I do think that if Im going to occasionally satisfy my craving for a virtual beach moment, there are some real choices to be made about the impact my purchase does make. For now, Harmless Harvest has definitely got me as an occasional customer.