Founder Grier Govorko, who lived for a number of years in Southeast Asia on a remote island off the coast of Thailand, launched CoAqua three years ago.
“I looked across the market space, and the obvious ones [coconut water brands] popped up, but I didn’t see much differentiation between them,” Govorko said.
“They’re all Tetra Paks essentially, they all spouted the same story: ‘a sports replacement drink’, and I thought that was kind of limiting and I didn’t see a premium player within that space and I thought we could do something better.”
The company sources its young green coconuts from farms outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where it also processes, pasteurizes, and bottles its coconut water. The brand is in primarily high-end five-star hotels and resorts such as the Four Seasons in the Asia Pacific region and sold online in the US market.
CoAqua looks distinctly different than most of the carton and plastic packaging out there as it is in single-serve clear glass bottles with a metallic pull tab cap.
“It’s got to look good if it’s going to sit in a Four Seasons hotel,” he said.
The packaging choice had 50% do with looks, but the decision to use glass went deeper than that, according to Govorko.
“When I started this business, [I thought] if this is going to go at all, it’s going in glass…it’s going in something that’s inherently recyclable.”
EPA recycling figures from 2014 found that US recycling rates for glass are much higher (26%) compared to plastics (the fastest growing packaging type in the beverage industry), which had a 9.5% recycling rate. Paper and paperboard have the highest recycling rates of 64.7%, according to the EPA.
Another advantage of being in glass is that the product tastes naturally sweet compared to other coconut waters in carton or plastic containers, Govorko claimed.
In fact, CoAqua recently won a taste test contest by Domino Magazine against seven other well-known coconut water brands last month being described as tasting like “drinking straight from the coconut” and “very sweet, but not in a bad way; more of a treat”.
The process of pasteurization in glass versus other packaging types is that you end up with a “slightly caramelized natural sugar,” Govorko claimed.
Developing US foothold
While still new to the US market, Govorko says he feels “confident” about its online approach.
“We’re a tiny little startup so we’re not trying to engage in price wars in traditional retail,” Govorko said. “I hazard to say that I’d like to never be in traditional retail.”
He added that CoAqua is targeting and gaining a following with “health-aware” consumers who are bit “hip” and fall within the mid-20s to late-40s age range.
“I think the US offers an opportunity with regards to the direct-to-consumer [channel] that a lot of the other places that we’re in simply don’t,” he said. “I see the US as an educated consumer with a willingness or acceptance of online direct-to-consumer style buying.”
CoAqua products are currently available online through its company website in 12-pack cases for $48.
In its quest to establish itself as the “go-to” premium coconut water brand, CoAqua is considering adding new flavors to its lineup because similar to the reasoning behind the genesis of launching the company: “Everybody does sort of the same thing,” Govorko said.
“I’d like to release some new flavors that nobody else is doing because I think that there’s a lot of scope particularly in regards to ingredients that are indigenous to the region where we produce.”