Once Upon a Farm co-founder Ari Raz joins The Coconut Cult as CEO: ‘Its core following is really unmatched for a company of this size’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

 The Coconut Cult's new CEO Ari Raz (left), and co-founder and former CEO Noah Simon-Waddell (right) who has moved into the role of chief innovation officer. Image credit: The Coconut Cult
The Coconut Cult's new CEO Ari Raz (left), and co-founder and former CEO Noah Simon-Waddell (right) who has moved into the role of chief innovation officer. Image credit: The Coconut Cult

Related tags: Coconut Cult, Once Upon a Farm, Ari Raz, plant-based yogurt, Probiotics

Ari Raz - who helped introduce Americans to fresh baby food via the Once Upon a Farm brand – has taken the helm at The Coconut Cult, another California-based startup attempting to carve out a new category in grocery.

While the brand is still small, it’s growing rapidly, and inspires the kind of devotion from fans that many founders would kill for, said Raz, who was working with the brand in an advisory capacity before being invited to join as CEO.

“I was a bit taken aback, honored, flustered and surprised when they offered me the role, but the prospect of making that leap was very exciting,” ​said Raz, who said his years of experience at Once Upon a Farm handling everything from raising money to operations, brand-building, e-commerce, and building a culture, would help take The Coconut Cult to the next level.

“I've always been most interested in the early stage of development, between where The Coconut Cult​ ​ is today to, being a 50 million plus annualized brand,” ​added Raz, who said he is “raising capital through the end of this year.”

He added: “The potential is there for the brand ​[which was co-founded by Noah Simon-Waddell, James Harkin and Jungho Michael Oh in 2016 and launched in 2017], and the core following is unmatched for a company of this size; the love for the brand is unmatched.”

16 different probiotic strains

So what is the brand all about, and why does it inspire such 'cult-like' devotion?

While there are plenty of dairy-free yogurts on the market, The Coconut Cult - ​which comes with a hefty dose of probiotics and an equally hefty price tag (around $10/8oz jar) – is a very different proposition, Raz told FoodNavigator-USA.

Featuring eight ’two-spoonful’ servings per 8oz jar (thanks to the coconut, just two tablespoons contains 6g saturated fat, so wolfing down the whole jar in one sitting probably isn’t advisable), The Coconut Cult original SKU contains three core ingredients: coconut meat, coconut water, and coconut water concentrate (all organic), with no added sugars, gums or starches.

It also contains 16 different strains of probiotics, making it more like a supplement than a food in many respects, and helping to explain the price tag, which can give the uninitiated a touch of sticker shock before they do the math and realize that they’re actually buying eight servings, acknowledged Raz.

As a result, you likely won’t see The Coconut Cult sitting next to a cup of Yoplait at Walmart any time soon, but that hasn’t stopped hardcore fans from buying it – and evangelizing about it on social media, hence the term ‘cult’ (although Simon-Waddell says the brand name was also inspired by German nudist and coconut fanatic August Engelhardt  - look him up​, you won’t regret it​).

Right now, The Coconut Cult is in roughly 800 stores including six regions of Whole Foods, but if it wants to reach mainstream supermarkets, it will likely need to develop a single-serve format that will enable trial via a more accessible price tag, said Raz.

“We'll have to develop a new line that will be appropriate with a new formulation to be eaten as a single serving, and that will be something that we work on this year as well.”

The Coconut Cult jars
The Coconut Cult– co-founded by Noah Simon-Waddell, James Harkin and Jungho Michael Oh in 2016 and launched in 2017 - contains 16 different strains of probiotics. Image credit: The Coconut Cult

To do list: Internal operations, margin improvements, capacity improvements, systems improvements

In the meantime, however, there’s plenty of runway in independent stores and the natural channel before worrying about how to talk to the buyers at Bentonville, observed Raz, who said some stores now stock The Coconut Cult products next to refrigerated shots and other functional wellness products as well as in the yogurt aisle.

“So, my initial goals now through the end of the year are really to focus on internal operations, margin improvements, capacity improvements ​[the brand self-manufactures in San Luis Obispo, CA], systems improvements, and then moving into the new year we’re going to be doubling down on innovation in yogurt; we are also going to be discontinuing our frozen gelato line, which was doing well, but we want to prioritize growing one category.”

The Coconut Cult_logo

Ingredients​: Organic coconut meat, organic coconut water, organic coconut water concentrate, custom probiotic blend (16 Probiotics: L. Lactis, S. Thermophilus, L. Salivarius, L. Acidophilus, L. Helveticus, L. Plantarum, L. Gasseri, L. Brevis, L. Casei, L. Fermentum, L. Reuteri, L. Rhamnosus, B. Longum, B. Infantis, B. Breve, B. Bifidum)

Nutrition​: Each one ounce (2tbsp) serving contains 70 calories, 6g sat fat, 1g sugar, 2g fiber, 1g protein 

According to the WHO​, probiotics are ‘live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’

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