Is recent explosive growth in the coconut water category sustainable, and is there still room for new players as the category starts to mature?
Not surprisingly, Epicurex VP sales Paul Kilbride, a former Coca-Cola sales executive on a mission to turn COCOZIA into the next big thing in the category - is convinced the answer to both questions is YES.
Launched in summer 2013, COCOZIA is USDA Organic and Kosher certified, non-GMO project verified and Fairtrade certified, and is set to release new mango, chocolate, coffee and pineapple flavors in March along with larger packs with re-sealable caps (it's currently in single serve 330ml tetrapaks with straws).
Available in Walgreens stores in South Florida, Amazon and other natural foods retailers, gyms, fitness centers and produce stands across the east coast; COCOZIA recently got a huge boost after Epicurex struck a deal with leading organic and specialty foods distributor UNFI, which as a starting point now offers the range to customers ordering from its DC in York, Pennsylvania.
Buyers are showing some signs of fatigue, but category still growing rapidly
While buyers are showing signs of coconut water fatigue, the category is still growing robustly, with sales still up in the triple digits, Kilbride told FoodNavigator-USA.
“You do have to counter that ‘not another one’ objection from buyers, but there really is nothing else like COCOZIA on the market. It’s only got one ingredient - organic coconut water - but it tastes incredible. It’s not from concentrate and nothing is added, no sweeteners or flavors, and it’s certified organic, but it’s affordable.
“The coconut water category is still being developed, although there are some leading players emerging such as Zico, O.N.E and Vita Coco. But if you have a good product there is still room for new brands as the category is growing so fast, as coconut water appeals to a very broad demographic.”
Hydration, recovery, and electrolyte activity are important for sports and fitness people, while anyone interested in health and wellness or looking for refreshment is potentially interested in coconut water, he says.
With only 19-24 calories per 100ml compared to 43 calories per 100ml for orange juice, it’s also a lower-calorie alternative to juice.
It’s fresh, clean-tasting and smooth
But doesn’t coconut water on its own taste a bit grim - which is why several companies have added sugar and flavors to mask its taste? (Harvested from immature, green coconuts, coconut water might be rich in potassium, magnesium and essential electrolytes, but it does not taste the same as coconut meat and oil, which is harvested from mature nuts.)
Not if you use the right coconuts, insists Kilbride. “Our product is harvested in the Philippines from young green coconuts. It’s fresh, clean-tasting and smooth. Our CEO has been traveling the world to find the best-tasting coconuts to use and we think we’ve found them.”
When you’re Coke or Pepsi you pretty much rule what happens in the beverage aisles
But how can small firms compete with the likes of O.N.E. and Zico, which are backed by the might of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola respectively?
Kilbride, who worked for Coca Cola Enterprises for several years in various sales roles, acknowledges that the big guns in beverages have the odds stacked in their favor when it comes to getting new items listed.
However, if you can get your toe in the door with a great-tasting product, consumers are still trying new brands in the category and finding the one they like the best, he said, so there is still an opportunity for a smaller player to get a foothold with the right product, he says.
“When you’re Coke or Pepsi you pretty much rule what happens in the beverage aisles - they have the money and the connections, and they can get the distribution for a new product.
“If you are a smaller company, buyers want to know you’re in it for the long run, that you are financially secure, that you have a promotional strategy and can support your products, so we’ve been getting out there and attending shows, building brand awareness, showing that we’re not a fly by night operation.”
And it’s paying off, he says: “We’re getting a lot of great feedback on social media, great reviews on Amazon, so I’m feeling very confident we can make it because where we are stocked, we’re getting the repeat purchases.”