Do you shop at Costco?
Have you seen their great deal on coconut oil?
I saw it and wondered myself–”Could this really be high quality coconut oil at this price?” So I bought some about 4 months ago and put it on my shelf.
Many have been thrilled about being able to purchase a great wholesome fat like coconut oil at Costco for a great price.
But not everyone is happy about it.
I honestly was almost in tears this past week seeing what can happen when due diligence isn’t done, accusations are made carelessly, and apologies don’t come.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, read on.
I worked on this post for quite awhile to make sure I had the whole story covered and covered well. There is a lot of misinformation to clear up, and it’s going to take awhile, so please hang with me for another “longish” post :).
This past week, a post called “Why Buying Coconut Oil at Costco is Risky Business” came out on a very popular healthy living blog, The Healthy Home Economist.
In a nutshell, one person contacted the owner of that blog, Sarah Pope, on her Facebook page, and told her that she had purchased Carrington Farms’ Coconut Oil from Costco. She stated:
“I just opened and began using a big container of coconut oil (got it at Costco) that I’ve had for maybe 3 months and it has sat on my pantry shelf (outside in my garage, I live in Texas so it’s gotten hotter than 100 degrees). It smells like burned marshmallows, or maybe the inside of a pumpkin on Halloween. Since I can’t find any web sites that describe the smell (other than “yucky” and “very, very bad”) for rancid coconut oil, could you please help me out? I can’t stand to put it on my face….but can I still cook with it?”
First of all, Sarah’s advice to her reader that she not use the coconut oil was good advice.
But that is where the good advice stopped.
Sarah then went on to vilify Carrington Farms and Costco and to cast aspersions on almost the entire US Coconut Oil market.
Here’s what went down and how it went wrong:
Accusations Against Carrington Farms–and the Truth
Accusation #1: Costco’s oil spoiled because there was something wrong with the oil
Sarah assumed, without doing any research, that the Costco customer’s oil was “bad” due to either poor quality, poor filtration, or the oil being just plain “old.” To quote her:
It’s anybody’s guess, but one thing is for sure. It was not fresh, high quality Grade A coconut oil. Cheaply priced coconut oil at a discount store is going to get you exactly that: cheap oil that is likely old, improperly filtered (manufacturer’s defect) and not the best choice for your health.
Response: There is no way to know the cause of the problem without more evidence
After reading this post, I thought that I would contact Carrington Farms myself to learn more details about the situation.
I talked to one of Carrington Farms’ Vice Presidents, and she said that they haven’t had any other recent complaints about their coconut oil being bad, and that they never got any information from Mary M. about their oil– no lot number and no expiration date. Nothing.
So while she admitted that there is a slim possibility that there was something wrong with the oil, she said that it is much more likely that the oil was opened and something foreign got in there to cause the problem.
For example, perhaps Mary had opened the container, used a spoon to get some coconut oil out, and the spoon had something on it. Or some such “user error.”
However, there really is no way for them, or for us, to know anything because all we have is Mary M’s message and Sarah’s response.
UPDATE (7/3/13): A few readers have mentioned that it was likely the fact that Mary stored the coconut oil in her hot garage that led to it spoiling. I don’t know. Of course, the label says to store in a cool dry place, but I have read in numerous places that people have stored their coconut oil in a hot place with no problem. Furthermore, Sarah mentioned in her post:
I have never had it go off, even when kept for a year or two in my garage where the temperature easily reaches a 110-120F on humid August afternoons.
so I decided not to blame the smell issue on the hot garage.
2. Accusation #2: Costco sells inferior or old food products
To quote Sarah:
the big box wholesalers like Costco have been faced with a dilemma – how best to capitalize on the coconut oil frenzy while keeping the price dirt cheap. I’ll admit that I’ve been suspicious of the big box wholesaler brands of coconut oil for quite awhile. The price just didn’t jive with the price I knew to be necessary to ensure a quality, pure product.
Response: Costco carries quality food products – Carrington’s oil is one of them
I’ve been a Costco member for many years, and mostly we’ve been thrilled with their quality. And I’m not easy to please about some things (maybe you can guess that as you read my posts and see the lengths I go to at times to make sure I am getting a good product). In fact, I’ve had to return some things to them and they aren’t always happy about that. But that is too bad–they claim to have high quality and consumers should hold them to that.
But I have never ever thought that they intentionally partnered with companies that sold junk. There are, of course, companies that sell bulk name brand clothing to stores like Costco that are lower quality so they can sell them inexpensively, but to my knowledge, there are no “lower quality foods” being sold to Costco.
I think Costco has some things to learn about getting and keeping more and more whole food products in their stores (I am petitioning them every time I go to get the Coleman Natural Hot Dogs back. So if you are a member, drop that message in their suggestion box for me too, OK – “Get Coleman Hot Dogs year round :)!” Thank you!!)
Anyway, about Carrington Farms’ super reasonable coconut oil at Costco . . .
What Carrington’s VP said to me is that the low price of their oil at Costco is simply a matter of the economy of scale.
Carrington sells coconut oil in 12 oz and 54 ounce sizes. The 54 ounce size is what Costco carries.
They sell their 54 ounce for $24.99 on Amazon and for $15.99 at Costco. And they also have their own website.
That $15.99 is a real steal, but here is the deal.
It takes the same amount of work for Carrington to sell 1 container of coconut oil off their website as it does to sell 20,000 jars to Costco.
They have to take an order, pack it up, and ship it.
I know how this works. I sell products on my Natural Store page. The main products I sell are zeolite and soap nuts.
I sell one bottle of zeolite for $15.25 and 12 for $100 (instead of $183 at the “per bottle” price). I sell 1 ounce of soap nuts for $2.50 and four pounds for $52.30 (instead of $160 at the “per ounce” price).
So even though the size of the coconut oil at Costco is the same as the one on Amazon, they sell so many more at Costco that they can offer the coconut oil at a better price.
Carrington’s VP said that they sell many full truckloads to Costco weekly–versus 1 case each week at a regular grocery store.
It’s the same oil…..just the economy of scale working for Costco members.
PLUS – My Carrington Farms oil (that I bought about 4 months ago) has an expiration date clearly marked on the label – 2/20/15. That is NOT old oil. And besides, it will likely last long beyond that date. Coconut oil is known for its stability.
3. Accusation #3: Carrington Farm’s Coconut Oil is not pure.
Sarah said that ”Inexpensive Coconut Oil is Likely Poor Quality” and then went on to list the following possibilities reasons why a coconut oil might be of poor quality, insinuating that Carrington Farms Coconut Oil is either
- possibly not 100% coconut oil
- improperly filtered
All it took was one phone call to Carrington Farms to straighten this out, and that is what I did. I talked with one of their Vice Presidents who spent a lot of time on the phone with me going over their quality control. And believe me, they are on top of their coconut oil’s quality.
Response: Quality-Related facts about Carrington Farms’ coconut oil
1. Carrington Farms coconut oil is unrefined and no chemicals are used in the processing of the oil.
2. The coconuts are grown on certified organic farms in the Philippines.
3. Representatives from Carrington have visited the farms to ensure quality of the growing process and a partner in the company visits to ensure that their representatives are doing everything they can to guarantee that everything is as they say it is.
4. The coconuts are grown on several farms to avoid problems of “single site sourcing”–should there be a natural disaster in one farm, they can still get coconuts.
5. The coconuts are processed within 4 days of being picked.
6. The coconut oil is filtered twice before being moved to a bottling facility, and then it is filtered again.
7. Carrington Farms does third party GC/MS testing on each lot of their oil. If any other vegetable oil was cut into the coconut oil, it would show up on these tests.
8. The oil is tested for microbes, e-coli, salmonella and more.
9. Their containers are BPA-free.
10. Their coconut oil is unrefined, unbleached, and is not deodorized, and their processing is hexane and heat free. I think you can see that they care about quality.
Just because a product is one you haven’t heard of, doesn’t mean it is junk. I too wondered about Carrington Farms Coconut Oil when I saw it at Costco. I bought some and I am very happy with it.
4. Accusation #4: Carrington Farms is involved in fraudulent marketing because they label their coconut oil as being “Extra Virgin”
To quote Sarah,
There is no such thing as “extra virgin coconut oil”. It is either refined coconut oil or virgin coconut oil. A friend of mine who is the owner of a company that is a quality purveyor of virgin coconut oil had this to say: “… any product that uses the term ‘extra virgin’ and it does not pertain to olive oil is using the term outside its definition… Trying to market something that does not exist.”
Response: The truth about “Extra Virgin Coconut Oil”
Well, to be fair, Sarah is right–there is no such thing as Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.
But what Sarah should have checked before sharing this post is that the coconut oil that she recommends to her readers has been marketed as “Extra Virgin” too.
In her post, she said “the only way to ensure a quality product is to buy from a quality small business.” Interestingly, the words “buy from a quality small business” are linked to Village Green Network (the blogging network which Sarah is a big part of)’s affiliate portal where you can then click to see what coconut oil (and other products) they recommend.
The problem is that the coconut oil they recommend (Radiant Life) was also marketing themselves as being “Extra Virgin”. In addition, when you can click around and check out their recommended products, VGN members don’t just get paid when you purchase, they get paid per click, so getting click-happy on their Resources page puts a lot of money in their pockets.)
Some of Sarah’s readers called her on this “Extra Virgin” conundrum. Then Sarah said that she had contacted Radiant Life about it and they were changing their marketing. I don’t have anything against Radiant Life, but it is again, poorly researched.
In fact, here is a screen shot I pulled off the internet when I found out about this story, just so you could see that Radiant Life has been, and still is, marketing their oil as being “Extra Virgin.”
If you type in “Radiant Life Coconut Oil” into Google, up comes this description of their coconut oil. This description is set by Radiant Life when they set up their product for Google: And here is an entry on Radiant Life’s blog about making your own “Extra Virgin Coconut Oil Lotion”
(Update: In case Radiant Life changes their post, here is a screenshot of the top part of the post):
What Carrington Farms’ VP told me is that, while there is no “Extra Virgin” designation for coconut oil, when they started marketing their oil, almost all of the other coconut oil companies in the US were marketing their oil as being “Extra Virgin,” and so they thought it would be both confusing to the customer, plus it would put their coconut oil in a negative light if they only labeled their oil as “Virgin.”
(Please note: The Amazon links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking, I might make a commission, but your price does not change. I thank you oh-so much for your support!)
Click on these links to see that a bunch of companies also market their coconut oil as being “Extra Virgin”:
3. Nature’s Way
6. Source Naturals (these are capsules, but they are called “Extra Virgin”)
This list represents a mix between companies known for being inexpensive and those know for high quality.
But the point is that they all use the term “extra virgin” to describe their coconut oil. In fact, I think one is more hard pressed to find a company that doesn’t refer to its coconut oil as being “extra virgin” than one that does.
And the Carrington’s VP told me that they sell the exact same coconut oil in Canada as “Virgin Coconut Oil” because Canada has laws about coconut oil labeling that the US doesn’t have.
Now, let me be clear. I could have just kept silent on this.
Sarah has a big blog and a lot of influence in the whole foodie blog world. It’s not really advisable to write something negative about someone that big. But, I really felt I had to stick up for a company that is being hurt because of this mess.
Just like Sarah wrote about the lessons she thinks should be learned about what type of coconut oil to buy, and where to buy it, I am adding my own set of lessons to be learned here:
1. Don’t go on just one person’s word when accusing a company, or someone, of wrongdoing.
Sarah wrote that “ evidence is now emerging that my suspicions [that big box wholesaler brands of coconut oil are junk] have been justified.”
One person’s comment without sufficient details (such as lot number, expiration date, whether the container was opened previously or not) is not evidence. It is just conjecture until the facts are checked out.
And just to put this out there, there are plenty of folks who just do mean things to hurt others. I am not saying that Mary’s or Sarah’s intentions are such, but there are people who spread lies in order to hurt others and build themselves up, so we need to be really really careful when putting out negative claims about a person or company.
2. Do due diligence before making a sweeping accusation. Sarah should have called Carrington to find out their side of the story before publishing something so damaging to their reputation.
3. Say you’re sorry when you are wrong.
What You Can Do to Help
I think that Carrington Farms has really been through the ringer unfairly on this one. I am sure that their sales are hurting and that is just not right. I have a jug of their coconut oil right here and I will say it smells and tastes wonderful.
1. Go to Costco and buy some Carrington Farms Coconut Oil.
2. Go to Amazon and buy some Carrington Farms Coconut Oil.
3. Subscribe to my blog. I go to great lengths to make sure that I am doing good, solid research on everything that I share with you. It takes time and I am super busy. But I will not try to get you to read my blog by posting stuff that’s unnecessarily sensationalist. It would mean a lot to have your vote of confidence by having you as a subscriber to my blog updates. And besides–you wouldn’t want to miss anything, would you :)?
4. Share this post (see sharing buttons below) with others so they can find out that Carrington Farms is a decent company with high quality products.
Finally – what about buying local and from small businesses?
That’s really a whole other topic. I love supporting small businesses. But frankly, I can’t do it all the time.
I can’t do anything all the time–Blog, be a great homeschool mom, keep a clean house, recycle, get the best bargains, be a kind and loving wife. I need work on all of those things.
Some more than others.
But right now, I buy local when I can. (I just got a flat of organic strawberries from a local farm and I buy eggs from a friend at church. UPDATE: I was just accused of not supporting local businesses, so I am updating with more information: I just bought 15 local chickens and we have 2 local deer and a local pig in our freezer. And the most local thing I do is we have a huge garden out back !) As for coconut oil? I am sticking with Tropical Traditions and Carrington, and Nutiva for now. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other great companies. But a gal can only do so much research at once–and right now I am off to find a new brand of stevia :).
For more “controversial topics” that might interest you, check out:
1. The FDA Says, “Probiotics are Dangerous? Arsenic is Safe”
2. Is There Engine Fuel on Your Almonds? – A must read.
3. Which Essential Oils Company is Best? - you will see here that I did a TON of research into oils and oil companies. And I was very clear about my limitations and why I made the conclusions that I made. And if I ever find something negative out about the company that I recommended, I will pull my recommendation. Plain and simple.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skinnylawyer/
Please leave questions or comments below. But please be respectful. Thank you.
Shared at Raising Homemakers, Frugally Sustainable, and We Are that Family.