By now, most consumers are familiar with coconut water and are aware of its naturally high levels of electrolytes including potassium and magnesium. What started out as niche beverage has reached mainstream acceptance with some of the biggest beverage players investing heavily in the category in recent years.
"The coconut water category is crowded, but we're aiming to do something different," TAJA Coconut president, Hallie Lorber, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Lorber began her career at Coca-Cola in New York City and has worked for other CPG brands including Vitamin Water and Keurig. It was at Keurig where she met Patel working on the company's cold innovation business.
"Nilang has always worked in the innovation space for food and beverage creating new products that may be the same that's on the shelf but are just better," she said.
According to Patel, most products on the market miss the mark on an authentic coconut water taste profile because most go through a heated pasteurization process or are exposed to oxygen during the process.
“Growing up in a tropical country (India) I was lucky enough to experience the joyful taste of pure and fresh coconut water straight from the tree, but as the drink started to gain popularity in the US I was disappointed to discover that none of the products I tasted came close the the coconut water that I grew up loving,” said Patel.
Patented cold-filtration process
Patel, who has filed around 49 patents independently, set out to develop a process that would preserve the coconut water in its purest form, never exposing the liquid to air, high amounts of pressure, or heat.
What he developed over the course of a few years, was a three-step process that involves harvesting the tender green coconuts from farmers in India, extracting the liquid, and using a seven-step cold filtration process before bottling.
TAJA Coconut sources its coconuts from farms in India (the world's third largest grower of coconuts).
"It’s an untapped market," said Lorber. "We compost the remaining part of the coconut, and give it back to the farmers to use for fertilizer for their soil."
"As a result, it locks in all the nutrients, it doesn’t change any of the flavor or the nutritional properties and it doesn’t turn cloudy or pink," Lorber said.
Lorber explained that most coconut waters end up turning hazy or a pink color as the liquid is exposed to oxygen during processing, which doesn't indicate any food safety issues, but can affect the taste. TAJA coconut water contains zero additives and no added sugar.
“Though our process isn’t the easiest way to harvest coconut water, purity is at the heart of everything we do, and we are dedicated to taking every step necessary to preserve all the nutrients of the natural nut and most importantly, its true taste,” said Lorber.
Unlike most competitors, TAJA is bottled in a clear fully-recyclable triangular bottle where consumers can see the crystal clear liquid inside.
"It was really important for us to see that the product is clear," Lorber said.
The brand's choice of a triangular bottle shape was intended to be a reminiscent of a young green tender coconut so that the brand could stand out on shelf, Lorber pointed out.
"If you ever looked at a tender green coconut, you’ll notice it’s a little oblong and triangular. We wanted the beverage to feel like it’s in its natural environment," she said.
"People are really drawn to the package. Women love that the bottle because it fits perfectly in their hand and is not too bulky."
'We intend to be available nationwide'
TAJA launched into 230 Meijer stores across the Midwest region where it's placed in the chilled produce section and sold for an SRP of $3.49 to $3.99 per bottle or a case of 12 for $53.99.
"We picked Meijer because we knew that we’re very in tune with their consumers and they know how to cultivate brands," Lorber said.
TAJA will be available online beginning next month where it can be shipped to any state nationwide.
"We anticipate being available nationwide in brick and mortar stores as well," added Lorber.
As TAJA scales distribution over the next year, it plans to launch some new innovation to its portfolio in January 2020, according to Lorber.