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It's always interesting to me what foodstuffs are available where; it's a down-and-dirty gauge of the public's interests in nutrition. When products that not-so-long-ago were hard to find show up on the shelf at the local big-box grocery store, clearly the public is demanding them. The fact, for instance, that WalMart is now the nation's largest purveyor of organic produce says volumes about how very mainstream the demand for organically-grown food has become.
As recently as, oh, 12-18 months ago, I had a frustrating experience at my local Kroger. They had dramatically expanded the store into one of those multiple-football-field-sized monstrosities that I frankly loathe. Adding to the annoyance was the fact that, despite all that new shelf space, they had stopped carrying several items that I had often purchased. One of them was Swad brand coconut oil. A popular Indian brand, Swad had been carried in the international aisle, and was pretty affordable, about $5/jar. Now it was gone.
I asked a manager for help, but the only coconut oil he could find was in the health food section of the store, and was a super-expensive extra-virgin organic coconut oil I simply couldn't afford. I left disappointed, not to mention annoyed.
Flash forward to today. I have, sitting in front of me on my desk, a big darned jar of coconut oil, at least twice the size of the Swad jar. The brand name is "LouAna," and so far as I can tell the quality is comparable. Price? Five bucks, the same price as the much-smaller jar of Swad. (The quantity listed on the label is "31.5 fluid ounces/0.98 quart/931 ml. Who decided on that odd-sized measurement, I'd like to know.) It was on the shelf next to all the other cooking oils -- the safflower, peanut, corn, canola, olive, etc.
Coconut oil has gone mainstream, and it couldn't happen to a more deserving fat. Kroger is the biggest grocery chain in the nation, and also owns many stores under other names, including Ralph's in California, Smith's Food and Drug and Fred Meyer's in many Western states, and Foods 4 Less in the West and Midwest. I don't know if the Kroger corporation is putting the LouAna coconut oil in all their stores; I rather doubt it; I'm sure they choose stock by regional demand.
Still, I think of Bloomington as being, in a lot of ways, a microcosm of America -- we are, as the country song once said, "The middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West," but because of our university we draw people from all over the country, and even the world. The grocery shopping here is much better than it would likely be in a town of 1000, but somewhat less exalted than it would be in, say, New York or Chicago, where you can get just about anything. I'm guessing that if big, inexpensive jars of coconut oil have made to to the grocery store shelves here, they're going to be in most places pretty soon.
By the way, if your local grocery is carrying this, don't worry about buying the big jar of coconut oil, for fear you may not use it up before it goes bad. Because it's so highly saturated, coconut oil has a spectacular shelf-life. An open jar at room temperature won't go rancid in a year. And anyway, what with the holidays coming up, you'll find plenty of uses. I find coconut oil makes a terrific substitute for Crisco-type "vegetable shortening" in baking. The one caveat is to make sure it's at a temperature that renders it solid when you use it for this purpose, or you'll end up with greasy baked goods.