Cocos Nucifera or the coconut palm tree is a monocotyledonous plant of the Arecaceae family. Originally from the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, the coconut palm tree is today found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical regions, including the Americas. Even though coconut palm trees have been a staple of the Caribbean diet and landscape for centuries, it has traditionally been an industry dominated by small and medium size plantations and family businesses. Only recently has the region begun to harvest coconuts commercially on a large scale as international demand and prices have been rising steadily. Nevertheless, geographic and structural limitations of Caribbean islands and nations limit their output capacity. In recent years, the leading coconut producers in the Caribbean region have been the Dominican Republic with an output of almost 340,000 tons annually and Jamaica yielding some 250,000 tons. Simultaneously, other major producers are Guyana with approximately 80,000 tons annually, Cuba with almost 65,000 tons, and Haiti yielding about 30,000 tons yearly. Nevertheless, coconut production in the Caribbean remains marginal when compared to major Asian producers with vast plantations. For instance, Indonesia produces upwards of 18 million tons of coconuts annually, while the Philippines yields more than 15 million. Meanwhile, a leading brand within the coconut water industry, such as Vita Coco, processes tens of thousands of coconuts daily for bottling and commercial sale. This trend threatens to price out many local consumers who have traditionally consumed coconut water and can no longer purchase it due to the high international market prices. In order to both profit from openings in the international market and serve their domestic consumers, coconut producers throughout the Caribbean need to enlarge their plantations, optimize their operations by planting younger palm trees, and allocate production to domestic as well as international retailers.
Coconut Production in the Caribbean and the Bottling Process
When it comes to the commercial sale of coconut water by major bottled brands, such as ZICO, the water extracted from the coconuts should be pasteurized for sanitary purposes in order to extend its shelf life and facilitate its international trade. The pasteurization process kills any bacteria and prevents their future growth in order to ensure the quality of the product. Within the commercial coconut water industry, there are three main methods for pasteurizing the water product. The first one is High Pressure Processing (HPP) pasteurization, which consists of submerging the bottled product under water and subjecting it to high pressure. Another pasteurization method, known as ultra-high temperature pasteurization and usually used on milk, heats the coconut water to temperatures above 138º Fahrenheit for a few seconds. Lastly, the most popular method amongst commercial coconut water brands is known as flash pasteurization and it heats the beverage to a temperature between 71º and 74º Fahrenheit for up to 30 seconds.