A Sweet Way to Stay Healthy

Posted on 08/15/2022

FPSDC William Nichols group pic

I spent 18 days working in Manila with the Federation of Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC). The co-op’s work is admirable. They assist over 4,000 poor farmers (mostly coconut growers) by providing microloans and housing to families who lose their homes to the frequent typhoons in the Philippines. FPSDC also works to improve the farmers’ yields and process their coconuts into value-added products like desiccated coconut, coconut oil, and coconut sugar.

Finding good market information about coconut sugar—a task in this assignment—was a challenge. This is a relatively new and narrow niche product without its own specific industry code. For example, the soft drink business has an industry code, 312111. Use that code to conduct your research into soda pop. But coconut sugar has no code, so information was hard to find. But the product does have a growing following of supermarkets, food processors, and beverage makers.

Give a farmer a coconut and he will eat for a day. Teach him to research coconut sugar and he will eat for a lifetime. So, not only did I conduct market research, I also mentored three members of my client team in how to conduct market research. Ideally, they will continue to learn of market opportunities well after the end of my assignment.

Generally, I am not a strong proponent of sugar. In fact, I sometimes say that sugar is the devil. But, I have a decidedly different view of coconut sugar. It is natural, organic, unrefined, provides phyto-chemicals not offered by refined white sugar, and importantly, it has a low glycemic index. This is a boon for those who want to avoid a spike in their blood sugar level.

My assignment was spent working with a small team from the client organization. We conducted internet research into the demand for this natural sweetener, visited supermarkets to view shelf displays of coconut sugar, conducted Zoom call interviews with industry players, and analyzed internal company data. All in all, we concluded that growing global demand for this healthier sweetener would be a boon for my client. We also concluded that significant opportunity for expansion exists in their home market with food processors, bakers, and chocolate makers. Consequently, FPSDC will focus their efforts for now in the Philippines. But meanwhile, I urge my dear readers to check out your local Whole Foods for evidence of coconut sugar on the shelves. If there, stock up. Do yourself a health favor and do the poor coconut farmers a favor as well.

And finally: The Filipinos have a charming way of making a visitor feel important. I am frequently addressed as “Sir.” Often the Sir is spoken before my name, often before my formal name. Hence, when I walk through the hotel lobby, the staff will address me as Sir William. Not quite the princely respect I think I deserve, but respect all the same.

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