How to be the Coke of coconut water

Vita Coco's chief executive is already beating Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and now he's dreaming bigger.

By Jason Notte Jun 14, 2013 2:21PM
File photo of Vita Coco coconut water (© Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)You know how some folks in the U.S. refer to any cola with the generic term Coke? That's exactly how Vita Coco's chief executive wants people to associate his company with coconut water.

Vita Coco is already the kingpin of U.S. coconut water, with roughly 60% of the market, according to research firm Spins. The company made roughly $150 million in revenue last year, and CEO Michael Kirban says it's on track to land at around $250 million in 2013.

"We want to own coconut water like Tropicana owns orange juice or Gatorade owns sports drinks," Kirban told The Huffington Post.

It helps to have folks like Madonna, Demi Moore and Matthew McConaughey signed on as investors, but sweetened water is also a much easier sell when Rihanna and Anaheim Angels slugger Josh Hamilton are pitching it and Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) is distributing it.

Now, with an established lead in the market and big beverage producers like Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP) playing catch-up, Kirban says Vita Coco is going to ditch the movie stars and musicians and stick with athletes who serve to explain the "functionality" of his core beverage.

But the pressure is mounting. Coca-Cola jumped into coconut water last year with its $15 million acquisition of Zico. Pepsi has been increasing its investment in O.N.E. coconut water since 2010, according to Beverage Daily. Kirban says both giants are struggling to keep pace because they're too focused on dwindling soda sales and taking on Red Bull and Monster (MSTR) in the energy drink market. But that could also be because few Americans actually know what coconut water is.

In Vita Coco's flagship New York City market, Kirban says only 40% of consumers his company surveyed know what coconut water is. Even when people recognize coconut water, it's not immediately clear why they should.

Both Vita Coco and O.N.E. were sued by drinkers in 2011 for overstating the beverage's health benefits and the amount of hydrating electrolytes in them, according to Reuters. The suit alleged that only Coca-Cola's Zico lived up to its claims, though The Wall Street Journal says another lawsuit claims Zico's packaging doesn't warn consumers that its coconut water comes from concentrate.

Vita Coco paid more than $8 million to settle its suit, and Kirban is now weighing whether to take the company public "like Monster" or keep running it on his own "like Red Bull." Given recent revelations about PepsiCo's Gatorade and energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull, maybe Kirban should consider yet another road less traveled.

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Jun 14, 2013 3:44PM
If you want coconut water, buy a coconut.
Jun 14, 2013 3:10PM
Coconut water...97 percent water, 3 percent nutrients.  People sure do love to throw money away.
Jun 14, 2013 7:20PM
Coconut water is amazing! I can not drink gatorade without going to the hospital from intense hives because I have a chemical sensitivity, and gatorade has lots of chemicals. For a few years now my only options for beverage is water, 100% juice, milk, beer in dark bottles (beer in clear bottles have chemicals). I play basketball and do MMA, and I can't drink any of the sport chem. drinks without near death to get some needed electrolytes and a boost. Heard from people that coconut does what Gatorade does but better. So I gave it a shot and "holy $h!t it works! It you have to do anything that will put you physically to the point of failure then coconut water is for you, and there is no chemicals. I know because I am literally a human chemical detector for food. 

Jun 14, 2013 3:33PM
And another bottle that may or may not be recycled.
Jun 16, 2013 9:35PM
After the second carton it tastes good, but then, I've always loved coconut milk. My arthritis pain was better after a few days on it.
Jun 16, 2013 9:36PM
Coconut water is really too pricey though.
Jun 16, 2013 12:38PM
None of those crap can be a substitute for coconut water!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jun 14, 2013 6:31PM

Heres a good song about Coconut Water.



Jun 14, 2013 3:45PM
Not in a bottle, it comes in thoses waxed paper containers like cream or half and half come in.
Jun 16, 2013 12:40PM
Gin and coconut water, by the bahai man.

Jun 16, 2013 11:52AM

Scientific studies have now determined pig piss has a high content of vitamins and minerals..

Hogs will eat just about anything...

Mad scientists from a major soft drink company are now working on a formula, to change the color variatons and remove some of the salt content..

It is undetermined at this time, a sweetner for the formulation..

A write-in contest within the next couple months should produce a marketable name for product..

Favored so far are "Hog Heaven" and "Pigadilly"..or "HoVita"

Watch for it on Supermarket shelves by late 2013, early 2014 in other locations.

Jun 14, 2013 4:04PM

Gross! I don't care how the market this. It's disgusting!

Jun 16, 2013 11:36AM

I'll drink coconut water, if i'm stranded on a tropical island...Sweet Geezus.


and Doc Flowers how long have you been working there?

Jun 14, 2013 5:07PM
Real coconut water out of a coconut is quite refreshing but very high in cholestrol.
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