At the behest of patrons of her Tulum, Mexico-based restaurant The Real Coconut, Hunter launched in February the brand’s first products stateside with the introduction of her coconut flour tortilla chips, which she says offer the addictive crunch of their corn counterparts that consumers love, but without the digestive discomfort the grain can trigger.
She explained that the chips, and the coconut flour tortillas that serve as their base, were originally created by accident when she was looking for a way to use the rinds from coconuts and reduce the waste she created when she made coconut milk at home.
“I took those rinds, dried them out and ground them into flour … but it was never really a fine coconut flour, so the first tortillas I tried didn’t work,” she recalled. Undeterred, Hunter tried again using commercially produced coconut flour and found success, which ultimately led to the creation of her crunchy, dippable chips.
As someone who experiences digestive discomfort from grains and gluten, Hunter knew there would be a demand for her chips, which come in trendy flavors such as Himalayan Pink Salk, Golden Curry and Chili Lime, as well as traditional favorites Chipotle BBQ and Sea Salt and Vinegar.
Working on an aggressive timeline, Hunter also will launch next year a 10-inch coconut flour tortilla wrap to complement the existing six-inch option. She explained that the larger wrap will open the door for more grab-and-go pre-made meals and fill a need for wraps that not only are gluten free, but also grain free.
Not one to dip a toe in first, Hunter is jumping fully into the CPG space by also creating a line of cookies that not only diversify her portfolio, but also the base crops she uses to make her products.
Her cookies, which will launch in the US in the first quarter of next year, will eschew traditional wheat flour and grain, similar to her chips, but instead of using coconut flour, Hunter will use plantain flour.
“These are pretty revolutionary. No one else has anything like them. They are just plantain flour, coconut oil, a little coconut sugar and a few other basic ingredients,” she said, noting they will be available in three flavors: Chocolate Chip, Hemp Raisin and Gingersnap. Not wasting anytime, Hunter said she already is considering a fig bar and molasses cookie that also use plantain flour.
“The great thing is, they are very light and easy to digest” so consumers can feel good about eating them any time of day – including at breakfast, said Hunter, who admits she eats them for the first meal of the day when she travels and doesn’t have time to sit down.
The cookies will be sold in two-packs in larger boxes, making them ideal for placement next to the register for impulse purchases or as on-the-go and portion-controlled options, Hunter said.
Creating a sustainable crop and economy
The digestive benefits of coconut, plantains and cassava are only part of what drew Hunter to the crops, she said. She explained she also was attracted to their environmental and economic benefits and their ability to fulfill the second half of her mission to promote digestive health and sustainability.
She explained that unlike the nuts that are the basis of many popular flours, milks and cheeses, coconut, plantains and cassava do not require vast amounts of water or other limited resources to grow.
Plantains in particular grow “like weeds” in Belize, creating an opportunity to cultivate a crop that is both environmentally and economically sustainable, said Hunter, who is also the director of the Belize Sustainable Development Corporation.
The only thing holding back farmers from benefiting from plantains is there currently is very little value in it as a crop, but Hunter is trying to change that by creating a market where it is used as flour for gluten- and grain-free products, such as her cookies.
In addition, Hunter is helping to build a processing plant in central Belize where the plantains can be milled into a value-added flour that will bring more money to the farmers in the region. She also is teaching people in the region how to use the flour to feed their families and potentially make their own marketable goods.
In addition to cultivating plantains, Hunter is working with Belize farmers to grow more cassava and coconut, which increasingly are in demand for baked good and snacks, such as those made by The Real Coconut.