Going Coconuts

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Kim Gibson Clark
Kim Gibson Clark; photo courtesy of Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss

Coconut Bliss makes good-for-you products that are good for the world.

Delicious, innovative flavors like Salted Caramel & Chocolate and Ginger Cookie Caramel—all gluten-free and dairy-free—might draw you to Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream. But the company’s mission of doing good for the planet is just as appetizing.

Coconut Bliss began in 2004 when Luna Marcus and Larry Kaplowitz created blissful coconut-based ice cream in their Eugene, Oregon, kitchen using an ice cream maker they bought from Goodwill.

The duo hand-made and hand-packed their ice cream, as well as hosted frequent tasting parties in their house to test new flavors. As demand grew, they realized they needed to partner with a co-packer. So in 2007, they moved production to Oregon’s Lochmead Dairy, which had a dedicated nondairy line. Then in 2010, Lochmead, which is run by the Gibson family, bought Coconut Bliss. (Luna and Larry still retain 5 percent of the business.)

Milk flows from a slice of coconut on a white background
© GETTY IMAGES PLUS/ ISTOCK/ KRAFLA

Providing delicious allergy-friendly products for customers is important to Kim Gibson Clark, CEO of Coconut Bliss. So is making sure that inclusions—like brownie bits and cookies—are gluten-free. All Coconut Bliss products are certified organic, certified gluten-free, vegan and soy-free.

“And we only work with suppliers who also have the same certifications and adhere to those certifications in the same way,” says Gibson Clark, who has food sensitivities herself. “I have a personal motivation. I can relate to people who have food sensitivities and are trying to find something that they can enjoy and that feels good in their bodies.”

Good for Customers

The company goes the extra mile to find and use high-quality good-for-you ingredients. For instance, Vanilla Coconut Bliss Sandwiches and Dark Chocolate Coconut Bliss Sandwiches are made with vanilla and chocolate organic coconut-based ice cream sandwiched between gluten-free cookies made from organic sprouted brown rice flour, organic hemp seeds and organic sprouted oat flour.

It took four years to develop the sandwich, says Darcey Howard, director of marketing, in order to create the perfect gluten-free cookie that would retain its crunch and stand up to ice cream without falling apart when assembled or frozen.

Coconut Bliss Cookie Sandwich vanilla
Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss

Good for the Planet

Coconut Bliss is about more than the products, says Gibson Clark. She’s inspired to “create a more just and environmentally safe food system for the future and the present” and to “open up opportunities for everyone to be able to enjoy food, whether you’re gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant or you simply want to be eating 100 percent organic,” she says.

The irony is not lost on Gibson Clark that she grew up on a dairy farm and is now sitting at the helm of dairy-free Coconut Bliss. But the farm experience shaped her to become the compassionate CEO that she is today.

“Growing up on a farm taught me to value hard work and to value the people who are doing that work,” she says. “It helped me to be sensitive to our food system and to understand how much work goes into making a gallon of any kind of milk or manufacturing food for people to eat.” She also saw systems the company could improve upon, such as sustainability issues.

“When Luna and Larry came into my life and Coconut Bliss came across my path,” she says, “I realized that, through business, I could be even more impactful in making change, because I could directly make decisions about the kind of ingredients that we were purchasing, the labor practices and the working conditions of everyone along the chain.”

Coconut Bliss Cookie Sandwich Chocolate
Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss

The company buys its cocoa and coffee through a fair trade cooperative. The organic vanilla comes from Madagascar, where the supplier has created a clean water project for the community. Almonds come from Maisie Jane’s, an organic family farm in California.

“It’s not always the easiest route, but it’s the best route. And there’s always a solution,” Howard says. “There’s always a way to make this organic, allergy friendly and delicious.”

Gibson Clark wanted to give back to the global communities that supply their ingredients, particularly to women in those areas. So Coconut Bliss established a program to help women in the Philippines start their own businesses using coconut byproducts, such as making fabrics from the husks, vinegar from coconut water and baskets from
palm fronds.

“I’ve been dreaming for years about finding a way to support women and girls who are underserved and whose choices and opportunities are really limited in life,” Gibson Clark says. “Raising the standards of living, education and access to capital for women around the world is a game changer.”

coconut milk spilling out of an half fruit
© GETTY IMAGES PLUS/ ISTOCK/ KELENART

When Gibson Clark was growing up on her family’s farm, she never anticipated her current role—but she did believe she’d be working to increase understanding of the environment and the food system in some way. Similarly, when founders Luna and Larry started Coconut Bliss, they wanted to create a natural foods alternative that was eco-friendly.

“The original core and foundation of Coconut Bliss was the passion around making amazing whole foods and a desire to create an ice cream that was accessible to more people,” Gibson Clark says. “We’re just taking that further. What inspires us, our innovation and how we develop new products is our core belief that business can do good in the world.”

Eve Becker is associate editor of Gluten Free & More magazine.