The selection of coconut milk for sale at the nation’s largest grocer is shrinking.
Kroger, which operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, is the latest pledging not to stock coconut products from Thai suppliers who have been accused of using monkeys as forced labor, officials from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals exclusively told USA TODAY.
Kroger confirmed it will drop Chaokoh branded products after it sells through its existing inventory.
PETA has been pushing stores to stop selling coconut milk it says are made with coconuts harvested by monkeys since it began investigating the alleged animal exploitation in 2019. Target, Costco, Wegmans, Walgreens, Food Lion, Giant Food and Stop & Shop have also dropped the Thailand-based brand.
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“Every can of coconut milk purchased from Chaokoh represents the misery of a chained-up monkey,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement. “Any grocery store still buying from this brand after PETA’s exposés of coconut cruelty risks losing compassionate shoppers, so Kroger made the right call.”
PETA says its members sent thousands of emails to Kroger and held protests with people dressed as monkeys holding signs outside of stores. It also dumped hundreds of what it says were “humanely picked coconuts” outside of Kroger’s Cincinnati headquarters.
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A Kroger spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY that the company followed its established process to evaluate the allegations and engaged the supplier and experts to determine its next steps, which were in line with its responsible sourcing commitment.
“Given ongoing disruptions in on-farm audits due to COVID-19, we were unable to confirm or refute the allegations," Kroger's statement said. "As a result, we are suspending sourcing at this time and will re-evaluate in the future when more information is available.”
Besides Kroger stores, the Cincinnati-based grocer operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano's, Fry's, Smith's, King Soopers, QFC and others.
The Thailand-based maker of Chaokoh coconut milk, Theppadungporn Coconut Co. Ltd, did not respond to USA TODAY's request for comment. The company has denied using monkeys and previously said in a statement that it randomly selected coconut plantations to audit using a third party and "did not find the use of monkey for coconut harvesting."
According to a report released this week by Future Market Insights, the global coconut milk products market has been expanding at a steady pace because of the increase in demand for dairy alternatives. The report said the rising prevalence of diabetes and lactose intolerance is expected to boost demand for coconut milk products.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kroger drops Chaokoh coconut milk after PETA monkey labor claims