Article / April 8, 2021

Clash Of The Coconut Water Titans

It was the right move when Mark Rampolla sold his Zico coconut water brand to Coca-Cola back in 2013. Vita Coco, the world’s most popular brand, was clearly winning the market share game.

But when he learned in October 2020 that Coke was going to discontinue the product, Rampolla wasted no time negotiating a reacquisition of the brand he founded.

Will his newly named Zico Rising spell a new chapter in the coconut water wars?

The Coconut Water Market: History in a Nutshell

 

Coconut has long been considered a staple tourist treat in tropical countries, where street vendors hack up a coconut in front of customers with a machete and drop a straw in. But people have been drinking coconut water as long as coconuts have been around. And some amount of packaged or bottled coconut water has been available in tropical areas since the early 1900s.

It wasn’t until the turn of the new millennium, however, that entrepreneurs began to see the potential of coconut water to become a major player in the beverage industry. Ira Liran and Michael Kirban launched Vita Coco in 2004, which quickly became the leading brand available in stores. 

Rampolla launched his Zico brand that same year, and O.N.E. came on the scene via Whole Foods markets when Rodrigo Velso launched the brand in 2006.

The three brands were constantly duking it out for market share over the ensuing years, with Vita Coco maintaining number-one status, Zico was number two, and O.N.E came in third.

Zico ended up with Coca-Cola, O.N.E. ended up under Pepsi umbrella, and Vita Coco is the only brand still with its original founder through parent company All Market Inc. (AMI). 

While Kirban remains the founder and CEO of AMI, the global leader in coconut water recently created the new position of president and filled it with former Boston Beer CEO Martin Roper, who developed new brands and quadrupled revenues for the independent craft brewer.

Continued strong growth in the global coconut water market has seen many more brands throw their hats in the ring, so the battlefield has more players on it than ever before.

This is only natural, given how the growth trajectory of coconut water has been hard to ignore. It went from virtually nothing in the early 2000s to a global market valued at $4.27 billion in 2019, and shows no sign of slowing down in the comings years, at least according to Grand View Research, which sees the market at least doubling over the next several years.

Why Coconut Water Has Made a Splash in the Beverage Industry

 

By all accounts, the rise of coconut water around the world is nothing short of meteoric, which begs the obvious question—why?

In part, coconut water’s skyrocketing of popularity is just a part of the growing health-consciousness of many consumers, especially millennials. Coconut in general has achieved super-food status and continues growing in popularity, as we’ve noted before

But coconut water is more than just the latest super-food health fad. It’s going to have staying power because it really is a superior beverage when it comes to hydration. Indigenous peoples throughout tropical climates have known this thousands of years. The rest of us are just finally catching up. 

Coconut water is loaded with electrolytes at levels that rival other sports drinks. An eleven-ounce serving of coconut water will give you as much potassium (which helps prevent cramping in athletes) as eating two bananas, and you get all that hydration, electrolytes, and potassium while also being fat-free, cholesterol-free, and low in calories. What’s not to love?

The Battlelines are Drawn: Let the Games Begin!

 

Rampolla is relishing another shot at taking on Kirban in the next wave of coconut water wars. The two launched their different brands in the same year, and in the same metropolitan market of New York City. They were literally chasing each other around the city trying to outrace each other in introducing their products to different market segments. 

Vita Coco won because Kirban managed to land all kinds of celebrity endorsements, including pop diva Madonna, actors Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore, singer Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, pop star Rihanna, and Alex Rodriguez of New York Yankees fame. Kirban also proved very smart (and ruthless) in taking full advantage of any missteps the Zico brand made, such as rolling out a version made from concentrate that went over like a lead balloon.

The two competitors actually became friends in 2013, but with Rampolla getting back into the fray with Zico Rising, it will be interesting to see how heated the next chapter in the coconut water wars will become in this renewed rivalry.