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The Healthy Business of Coconut Water

Coconut water, it's the latest craze in the local beverage industry. Referred to as Mother Nature's Gatorade, coconut water contains a variety of nutrients that provide a number of health benefits. And in Belize, the market for coconut water is growing rapidly. Street side vendors have found that selling coconut water is a profitable venture.� So, more and more locations are popping up, including Belize City, where the country's largest population is concentrated. In tonight's episode of Belize On Reel, News Five's Paul Lopez takes a closer look at the families benefitting from the sale of coconut water in the Old Capital and the nutritional value that the product promises. Here is that report.

Paul Lopez, Reporting

Vendors of coconut water are taking hold of the local beverage market,with a growing demand for healthier alternatives to sodas and sugary juices. Coconut water is also the chaser of choice many Belizeans. It is near impossible to travel within a mile's radius within the Old Capital and not come across one of these street side locations where coconut water is freshly served. Manuel Mejia has been selling his product from the back of a pickup truck for the past five years. His coconut water has been a staple here along the Phillip Goldson Highway for the past two years.

Manuel Mejia, Vendor

"Dah something weh we started and three ah we the do this. My sister, my bra-lee, we get fih like it and we sell good. Most of the time, only when ih rain or cold, but majority of the time business good."

Paul Lopez

"What do you think it is about coconut water that people like and demand so much?"

Manuel Mejia

"Lot of purpose, the water good for the health and your kidney and them things. That's why people buy it and them things deh. That is why people buy it. Sometimes we sell like a two three hundred. Before, we never had lot of people, we use to sell five hundred, six hundred coconut. But, now like how dah wah lot ah we, so the business slow down ah lee bit, but, before I use to sell a truck load."

At the price of two dollars for a sixteen ounce bottle and fifteen dollars per gallon, the hard labor that comes with cutting and bottling coconuts all day yields a decent profit. But, Mejia is right; the market has grown over the years. Each year, more vendors are popping up across the city. Brenda Sosa has been in the business for the past ten years. With her daily sales here along the George Price Highway, she is able to provide for her family.

Brenda Sosa, Coconut Water Vendor

"That is good for lot, for hydration, people come buy it lot for medicine. Because, it is something natural, people like to buy it. It has nothing like sugar."

Paul Lopez

"And how much coconut you would sell per day?"

Brenda Sosa

"It depends, because not every day is good. Sometimes like weekend it's good. But during the week I nuh sell like that. Saturday and Sunday we sell most. But, during the week we sell like half a truck."

Paul Lopez

"Is it enough to provide for your family?"

Brenda Sosa

"Yes, it helps us a lot, because we nuh work fih nobody, just for me and my common-law husband and I have three kids."

To get a sense of just how much coconuts are sold across Belize City weekly, we visited B Mart on Juliet Soberanis Street. Through their Cotton Tree Agro Produce farm, B Mart supplies a large portion of coconuts per week to vendors like Manuel and Brenda. And, their supply is only a percentage of what is sold weekly throughout Belize City.

Leopoldo Rosado, Marketing Manager, B Mart

"We saw that there was a need in Belize to get, natural, organic and locally grown produce. So, we do citrus, kale, bell peppers, and we are testing the market with a bunch of different items. But, coconut is one that we do have here at B Mart. So, currently our production is twice a week. We get a thousand per delivery. So, it is about two thousand coconuts per week. But if there is a supplier or somebody out there who needs more than that, come in. You can give us and order and we will make sure to facilitate your order."

Throughout our conversations with B Mart, Manuel and Brenda, a common theme has been the health benefits of this refreshing drink. Studies show that coconut water is a good source of several nutrients; it may also help to lower blood pressure. It supports heart health and can even help to prevent kidney stones. We turned to an expert in health, Doctor Fernando Cuellar, to tell us more about these nutritional benefits.

Dr. Fernando Cuellar, Internist, Belize Medical Associates

"Research, medicine and science has shown that there is much benefits coming from it. For example, one for the biggest one is it has electrolytes in it. That is things like sodium, potassium, magnesium. That is one of the things for example the sports drinks benefits are advertised about. You drink x and y sports drink yowah get these things. But, you get it naturally through the coconut water. It has antioxidants, proteins, some basic amino acids. It is low calorie which is a big thing for the people weh the work out and they nuh the put back a whole lot of calories. And, I would recommend that people drink it providing that it is prepared adequately and healthy. If notice, all over the city and country you find it at street sides, but that is where the public health people come in to make sure they are properly prepared and ih nuh full ah contaminants and dust the get pan it and that kind of thing."

The Government of Belize has taken note of this growing industry. Kareem Musa, the Minister of New Growth Industries, says the sale of coconut water has become a country wide phenomenon and a very profitable one at that.

Kareem Musa, Minister of New Growth Industries

"I think those are thriving businesses. You can go along Coney Drive or the Northern highway and you will come across so many. I would even want to say too many. But, clearly there is a market there for it and I would say very lucrative. It is a very good industry and so again that is a country wide phenomenon where you are seeing more and more people selling coconut and coconut water. Obviously it is very healthy as well. It has a lot of health components. So, that is something definitely something we are impressed by and recognize."

Channel 5

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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The Harmonious Relationship between Coconut Water Sales and Single-Use Plastic Bottles

On tonight's episode of Belize On Reel, we continue our coverage of the coconut water industry. We take a look at the symbiotic relationship between the sale of coconut water and the sale of single-use plastic bottles. Businesses that sell single-use products, like plastic bottles, are very much reliant on the success of vendors that sell coconut water. On the other hand, vendors in the business of selling coconut water cannot operate if plastic bottles are not made available. And, within this symbiosis is an environmental concern for which little to no alternative is available locally. News Five's Paul Lopez reports.

Paul Lopez, Reporting

On last week's episode of Belize on Reel, we showed you the expanding coconut water industry on the small business level. More and more street side vendors are turning to coconut water as a business opportunity. We spoke about the health benefits and the fact that the Government of Belize has taken notice of this lucrative business. Tonight we revisit this business and its symbiotic relationship with a separate industry. Cuello's Store on Central American Boulevard sells an assortment of single-use products for the food and beverage industry. Approximately eighty percent of sales come from small businesses like those coconut water stands we come across throughout Belize City.

Cindy Canton, Manager, Cuello's Store, Belize City

"We offer mostly biodegradable products for the food and beverage industry, the restaurants, local people that also have their small businesses out there that deal with tricycles. It starts with big restaurants and even the ones that are the street vendors as well."

The highly-sought-after product for those who sell coconut water are sixteen ounce and one liter plastic bottles. The most commonly used sixteen ounce bottles are sold by bale. A bale of eighty bottles cost the vendor twenty-one dollars, while a bale of two hundred and ten bottles go for fifty dollars. If you do the math, a single bottle costs about twenty- five cents a bottle.

Cindy Canton

"We get not just the coconut water. We get the coconut oil as well. They are not big, because I usually speak with my customers. So, they probably do in their vicinity. They do not do in big but they still do a little side business. Some of them would pick up a dozen of the bottles for the coconut oil and they will come in the next week. That is for a limited customer. Then there are others that will come in for the coconut water. They will come in two to three times a week for a bail of bottles that bring two hundred and ten bottles. So, some of them really are out there selling a lot."

There is, however, an environmental concern attached to the increased sale of coconut water. While more and more Belizeans catch on to this growing trend, each purchase is another single-use plastic entering the environment. As of March of 2022, the sale of single-use plastics has been banned in Belize. This has forced companies like Cuello's Store to source alternatives, like biodegradable plates and kitchen utensils. But, unless you take your reusable cup to buy coconut water, there is not much of an alternative available on the local market at this point.

Paul Lopez

"I know you told me earlier, I wish there were options, but at this point there are not any alternatives. Single use plastic is still not the best thing for the environment."

Cindy Canton

"That is true, hopefully and we are hoping that soon there will be a company that provides us with the biodegradable bottles. That is one of our main hopes and objectives, because they are trying to see of there are other options. But for right now that is what we, we don't import then what will happen with the people out there, what other source will they go to or use to sell their products. So, for right now we have to at least supply them with that and have the business still going on."

A notable change to the updated single-use bottles on the market is the fact that less plastic is used in the manufacturing process. These bottles are now easier to crush than they ever were before. But, Cindy makes a valid point. If these bottles are to be done away with, then what other options would be available for street side vendors, like Brenda and Manuel, who both rely on the sale of bottled coconut water to provide for their family?

Brenda Sosa, Coconut Water Vendor

"It helps us a lot because we nuh work fih nobody, just me and my common-law husband. I have three kids, she is my smallest baby. The first one is going to standard five. The smalles one is going to infant one and it helps us because we don't have to work for nobody. It helps us, yes sir."

Manuel Mejia, Vendor

"Enough fih just pay the bills and just for survive, just for live, pay the bills. Sometimes I sell like a two three hundred. Before we never had lot of people I use to sell five hundred, six hundred coconut. Now, because dah lot ah we, so the business slow down a bit. But, before I use to sell a truck load."

Channel 5

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