Franklin Baker eyes new specialty coco products

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A coconut plantation in Barangay Sibulan, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. -- LEAN S. DAVAL, JR.  

DAVAO CITY — Coconut processor Franklin Baker Company of the Philippines is looking to develop new specialty products even as it keeps up with the increasing global demand for coconut water.

Luis M. Rodriguez, Jr., group manager for the company’s nut buying operations, said the company’s third plant, located in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur and opened earlier this year, has the capacity for the production of more and diversified coconut products.

“All specialty products may be manufactured in the new plant,” Mr. Rodriguez said in an interview on the sidelines of the 2nd International Coconut Conference and Trade Expo in Davao City last week.

Franklin Baker has another plant in Sta. Cruz and one in San Pablo, Laguna.

The company’s main product is desiccated coconut, but it has also been producing creamed coconut, chips, concentrate, virgin coconut oil, flour, sugar, and coco water.

Mr. Rodriguez said coco water has been seeing a surge in demand, particularly in foreign markets, amid growing support for healthy lifestyles.

“Coco water is a game changer of the coconut industry as more and more people are getting conscious about health, (it’s) a better alternative to soda because it’s all natural,” he said.

“We don’t tap the local market for our coco water, majority goes to US and Europe and we are now looking to expand probably in the Middle East,” he said, noting that the export operation ships in bulk to companies that take care of the labelling and marketing under their own brands.

Alongside the expansion and development of products, Mr. Rodriguez said the company is also working to continuously improve plant efficiency, particularly in the extraction process.

“If we don’t do that, we are throwing away good money. We improve our efficiency, value creation and extraction. We don’t want to do a disservice to the farmers,” he said.

In the two plants in Davao del Sur, Franklin Baker processes about 1,200 metric tons of nuts per day.

Mr. Rodriguez said the company is working closely with coconut suppliers to ensure the industry’s sustainable growth.

Among the challenges on the supply side is urbanization and declining interest among the younger generation for coconut farming.

“Before, farm land cost about P30 per square meter, now it’s P500… what happens is, the owners of the land will sell, including their coconuts, then live in the city,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We know that farmers are aging and few are left to tend to the farm.”

Paying higher prices for farm output is one way of addressing this, he said.

“The family should be convinced to stay and make their coconut plantation their family business, earning from coconut.” — Maya M. Padillo