Coconut Oil

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 16 coconut oil brands.

We also look at Fairtrade and organic, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Tiana and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying coconut oil:

  • Is it organic? For plantation workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues. Opt for organic coconut oil.

  • Is it Fairtrade? The current boom in demand for coconut oil could create lots of opportunities for coconut growing regions, but only if profits are passed on to workers and their rights maintained. Look for Fairtrade to ensure that this is happening.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are all organic, and several are also Fairtrade [F]:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying coconut oil:

  • Is it grown using pesticides? Made from petroleum, chemical pesticides also threaten bee populations, contaminate water sources, and cause large-scale destruction of habitats. Look for organic to avoid bananas grown with these chemicals. 

  • Profits over people? Like many agricultural products, coconuts are often grown by overworked and underpaid labourers. Look for Fairtrade to guarantee that the workers are receiving a decent wage and working conditions.

Companies to avoid

Not only does Unilever score poorly in our table, it has been linked to deforestation in Sumatra through its palm oil supply chain. We would recommend avoiding its newly acquired brand:

  • Pukka

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Lucy Bee Extra Virgin Fair Organic Raw Coconut Oil [O, F, A]

Company Profile: Lucy Bee Ltd
18

Tiana Fair Trade Organic Coconut Oil [O,F]

Company Profile: Tiana Fair Trade Organics Ltd
16.5

Neals Yard organic coconut oil [O, A]

Company Profile: Neal's Yard Remedies
15.5

Clearspring Organic Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: Clearspring Ltd
14.5

Suma organic coconut oil [O]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
14.5

Biona coconut oil [O]

Company Profile: Windmill Organics Ltd
14

Raw Health Organic Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: Windmill Organics Ltd
14

Essential cooking oils [O]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
13

Groovy Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: The Groovy Food Company
13

Vita Coco coconut oil [O]

Company Profile: All Market Inc
12.5

KTC Coconut Oil

Company Profile: KTC (Edibles) Ltd
10.5

M&S Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
6

Waitrose Organic Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
4.5

Aldi Organic Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: ALDI SOUTH Group
4

Lidl Delux Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: Lidl UK GmbH
4

Sainsbury's Organic Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3.5

Morrisons organic coconut oil [O]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
3

Pukka Organic Virgin Coconut Oil [O]

Company Profile: Pukka Herbs
2.5

Tesco organic coconut oil [O]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

In the past three years, sales of coconut oil in Britain have risen from around £1 million to £16.4 million.

The rise in popularity of coconut oil is primarily due to health claims made about this so-called ‘superfood’ and its use as a substitute for dairy products such as butter, or cream in ice cream. (See our Non-dairy ice-cream guide).

Image: Coconut oil ethical guid

Unlike the other cooking oil markets, this market is largely dominated by smaller brands which sell organic certified coconut oil. In fact, all the 16 brands in this guide are organic bar one.

However, some have raised concerns about the effects of this rising demand on coconut-growing regions.

Ethical issues

Experience from other commodity markets shows us that higher demand and prices in western consumer markets does not necessarily translate into higher wages for the producers.

And this seems to be no different in the coconut oil market.

In 2013, the top producing region was the Philippines, a country where 60% of its coconut farmers live below the poverty line.

A quick survey of UK coconut oil prices found that on average it was sold for £5.50 for a 300ml jar.[1] An average Philippine coconut farming household earns PHP16,000 (£243) a year. 

Fairtrade International offers a word of caution against the current boom for coconut products and other so-called superfoods, saying “while it can have many positive impacts for farmers which include new business opportunities for local farmers and higher income it can also bring challenges too which are related to the sustainability of supply.” 

They add that, for instance, “The perception that demand could increase further could lead to the clearing of native bush to plant coconut trees, so there are questions about the impact on existing flora & fauna.”

Furthermore, Nora Pittenger from Fair Trade USA listed these main ethical issues with coconut production:

  1. Extreme poverty: coconut farmers are among the poorest of the poor in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines; this threatens the sustainability of coconut farming as a livelihood.
  2. Unfavourable and variable prices: given that small plots of land are farmed, coconut farmers and farm workers average about one dollar a day throughout the year.
  3. Low yields and productivity: particularly as coconut trees age, their inefficiency makes the cost of maintaining and harvesting coconuts extremely high.
  4. Mono-crop farming: coconut is mainly grown as a mono-crop; fostering an environment of low crop diversity that can be detrimental to the environment and risky for farmers.

What can consumers do?

To ensure the best conditions for the farmer and the environment, consumers should aim to buy coconut oil which is certified organic and Fair Trade. 

Of the brands covered in this guide, there only two companies offering double certification – Lucy Bee and Tiana.

All the rest of the brands, apart from KTC, offer consumers organically certified coconut oil which can help to avoid some of the issues listed above.

Health impacts

In 2018, Karin Michels, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health, poured scorn on the superfood movement and singled out the fad for coconut oil in particular, calling the substance “one of the worst things you can eat” that was as good for wellbeing as “pure poison”.

Michels based her warning on the high proportion of saturated fat in coconut oil, which is known to raise levels of so-called LDL cholesterol, and so the risk of cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil contains more than 80% saturated fat, more than twice the amount found in lard, and 60% more than is found in beef dripping.[2]

Victoria Taylor, a senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation said:

“We know that diets high in saturated fat are associated with increased non-HDL cholesterol in the blood, and high cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.

“There has been speculation that some of the saturated fat present in coconut oil may be better for us than other saturated fats, but so far there is not enough good-quality research to provide us with a definitive answer.

“What we do know is that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats like vegetable oil, olive oil and sunflower oil, and their spreads, has been shown as an effective way to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, so this would be a healthier choice.

“For the time being, if you like the taste of coconut oil, then, as with butter, it’s fine to use it every now and then. However, it’s best to restrict yourself to small amounts and use unsaturated oils as an everyday choice instead.”

Best Buy Lucy Bee say this on their website:

"All fats and oils are composed of molecules called fatty acids. Coconut oil is composed predominately of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT).

"The vast majority of fats and oils in our diets, whether they are saturated or unsaturated or come from animals or plants, are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Some 98 to 100% of all the fatty acids you consume are LCFA.

"MCFA are different from LCFA. 

"Nearly 50% of coconut oil MCFAs are lauric acid, the richest source naturally available. This converts to a substance called monolaurin in the body. 

"Monolaurin is found in abundance in human breast milk, part of Mother Nature’s immune support that is passed from mother to child. Anything in breast milk must be very gentle on the baby, yet effective at boosting immunity."

Company behind the brand

Tiana Fair Trade Organics sells coconut oil which is organic and certified by Ecocert Fair Trade.

The organisation states that, since 2000, Ecocert: "has encouraged the rise of new business trends by developing the following private standards including EFT (Ecocert Fair Trade) for economically and socially responsible organic fair trade products". 

Its standards for fair trade include provisions for discrimination, forced labour, child labour and freedom of association. The standards do not appear to provide a social premium to producers or any guarantees on prices paid for produce. 

Tiana's website states that it has a fair trade project that started at the end of 2009 when multiple typhoons hit the Philippines and coconut farmers lost their homes and almost all their income. The Tiana Fair Trade project guarantees a fair price for coconuts which allows coconut farmers to earn at least 25 percent more than the minimum wage requirements in the Philippines.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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References: 

  1. Prices taken from Tesco and Sainsburys coconut oil brand available on its website March 2016
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/aug/22/coconut-oil-is-pure-poison-says-harvard-professor