Drink Up

The American coconut-water craze in one health-nut-approved chart

April 26, 2014
April 26, 2014

If it feels like coconut water is suddenly everywhere, that’s because it is.

In a span of 10 years, the potassium-packed drink has gone from hardly even being a thing—let alone the sort of thing people in the US buy—to lining supermarket and convenience store shelves all around the country. Vita Coco, which is far and away the largest coconut water brand in the US, sold almost $270 million of the stuff last year—nearly 300 times what it did in 2004, the first year in which the drink was sold. The brand, which is still independently owned, controlled some 60% of the US coconut water industry in 2012.

But Vita Coco is hardly the only coconut water flying off grocery store shelves these days. Zico, the country’s second largest brand, which is owned by Coca-Cola, has gone from a $100,000 business in 2007 to an $87 million behemoth last year. O.N.E., Pepsi’s offering—and the third largest—has grown by over 1,100% since its introduction in 2006.

Altogether, the three—Vita Coco, Zico, and O.N.E—which control the vast majority of the American coconut water market, have grown by nearly 600% since 2009, and 2,759% since 2007. But there are many, many others—some 250 as of 2012, according to John Craven, the founder and CEO of BevNet.

A Google trends chart shows a similar picture to Quartz’s above, with interest starting to take off in 2009. Headlines about high-profile endorsements helped popularize the drink—including Madonna’s investment in Vita Coco (which reportedly caused a 168% surge in sales) and actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s discussion of a three-week cleanse she did in 2009, during which she survived on just pumpkin seeds and coconut water.

America’s love affair with coconut water has a lot to do with the country’s growing appetite for anything perceived to be healthy and natural. “It’s caught on fire, because it’s been touted as nature’s electrolytes,” Virginia Lee, a senior research analyst at market research firm Euromonitor, told Quartz. “Coconut water producers like to claim that it naturally replenishes your body. It’s also been positioned as a low-calorie drink.” (It does indeed include some minerals that are useful to athletes, including potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphate, and some essential amino acids; but some nutritionists have balked at the idea of it as “nature’s sports drink” because it lacks the carbohydrates, sodium and protein necessary for a recovery drink after hard exercise. As for the low-calorie claim, everything is relative: 45-60 calories for an 8-ounce serving is less than most commercial sports drinks.)

Coconut water has also benefitted from the industry’s ability to disguise the drink’s taste by infusing it with other, often overpowering flavors. “Coconut is somewhat of an acquired taste,” Lee said. “The industry has been extremely successful at incorporating flavors like mango and chocolate to make it more appealing to a mainstream audience.” Coconut water purists—the sort who either prefer the raw variety, or grew up drinking the stuff straight out of a coconut—might balk, but the flavor overhauls have played a huge role in popularizing the drink.

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