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How Yoga Boosted Coconut Water to $100 Million Gatorade Antichrist

in Business of Yoga, YD News

File this in the ‘Oh really?’ FYI category…

Coconut water is everywhere! Not just your local Bikram studio anymore. Just ask the huge redheaded Rihanna at all the bus stops. So, coco-hydraters out there, what’s all the fuzz about anyway? An in-depth article at Slate takes a stab at how folks have become so coo coo for coconut water all of a sudden (particularly in the US) and how top companies like Vita Coco and Zico have tapped the broader market to become bodega fridge staples.

For perspective, current leader Vita Coco has skyrocketed from sales of $20 million in 2009 to $40 million in 2010 to an expected $100 million in 2011. That’s a lot of coconuts. How did these companies turn such a profit and lure in the celebriyogi likes of Madonna and Matthew McConaughey? Yoga!

“We couldn’t afford a $100 million marketing campaign to reach everyone,” says [Zico CEO Mark] Rampolla, “so we needed to start small, with a targeted audience. We found out that yoga practitioners were fans of coconut water. They understood electrolytes but thought Gatorade was the antichrist.”

As a result, the initial positioning for coconut water focused on hydration and the importance of replenishing electrolytes like potassium when exercising. Jet-setting yoga hippie chicks were also powerless to resist coconut water’s culturally progressive, world beat vibe.

Or something like that. But anyone down dogging could’ve guessed yoga was the coco culprit. Perhaps we didn’t know quite how powerful it was though, until Coca Cola snagged a 20% stake in Zico a couple of years ago. More yoga (a billion dollar biz worldwide, mind you) equals more coconut water, oh and more mega corporations sinking their teeth into it.

Mostly, though, it’s because of this whole “wellness” trend we’ve got going on.

“…the successful arrival of coconut water on these shores has more to do with yoga than you might think. The wellness trend has inspired several profitable beverage launches—inspiring massive bottled water brands like Dasani and Aquafina, alternative sports drink concoctions like Vitamin Water, and single-ingredient juices like Pom Wonderful. Both Vita Coco and close competitor Zico were launched in 2004, near the dawn of the current yoga craze, and their early success was built on the (supple, flexible) backs of yoga-loving women.”

Now the mondo companies are preparing campaigns to reach beyond the yoga and fitness worlds, because they have to grow and of course make more money –  Get ready for the Gaga for Coco ads!  But will the public lose their appetite for the sweetness?

Our Southeast Asian friends will tell you it’s something they drink as frequent as, well, water. But the juice of young coconut’s can be somewhat of an acquired taste, with some folks finding it delicious and refreshing, while others could compare it to bilge water. We’re of the former, and enjoy the high potassium, electrolytes (yadda yadda) and thirst-quenching qualities of coconut water post-yoga, post-long day at the office, or you know, post- marathon vinoyoga. Though, admittedly, the corporate curtsying does leave a bad taste in our mouths.

What do you think, will the coconut water trend sustain or will coco go the way of the dodo?

If you prefer your coco water with a little less RiRi and biznatch suits, try an indie brand like Amy and Brian OR find yourself some young coconuts, pardner.

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12 comments… add one

  • The words that made me frown in the article:
    “culturally progressive, world beat vibe.”

    There aren’t many coconut trees in North America. Most coconuts are grown far South by people with brown skin, no education, no rights, nothing but a will to survive. Companies like Coca Cola move in there and clear cut farm land or rain forest, taking away the sources of indigenous food, leaving them with jobs that don’t pay a living wage, using all their natural clean water for its processing plant. They are left with just enough money to buy Coca Cola and it’s corn and potato based friends, chips. They have no means left by which to provide for their families without money, without land, without animals to hunt, or berries and nuts to gather, they lose touch with their culture and their history, and this all happens very quickly. Once this natural resource, warm sunny fertile Southern soil, is stolen away for our pleasures,the water is shipped here on cargo ships many thousands of miles. The carbon cost of that is more than 10 times the volume of what you receive in your store or studio. The cost to the planet to bring you 8 ounces of coconut water is as high as 8 POUNDS of atmospheric carbon, even more for those super sized containers they have now that Coca Cola owns Zico.

    Studio yoga is an energy consumptive activity. Heated and/or air conditioned, bathrooms, refrigerators filled with cold beverages, bottled water, towels, yoga mats, all of it is creating atmospheric carbon. We must begin to make some accounting for what we are using. We are taking from the world as we take care of ourselves and there must be some consideration of that. THIS is our yoga.

  • Banana Republic Resident

    “Most coconuts are grown far South by people with brown skin, no education, no rights, nothing but a will to survive.”

    Really? You must be living in total bliss, yes?…’cause you, my dear Annie, are plastered all over with ignorance as well as a few other things.

  • Teach a man to fish

    Yes, better that Coca Cola pay them nothing and leave those natives in their poverty. That would be preferable.

    If the locals do not want the jobs, they do not need to take them. If people do not want the products, they do not need to buy them. You are free to convince people not to buy the coconut water, but don’t blame Coca Cola for giving other people (the natives and the consumers) something they want. If you want the natives to be paid more, why don’t you form an organization that helps teach them higher paying skills? Or do you want them to be dependent on the “kindness” of others? Give a man a fish and all that.

  • annie, as always you bring a lot of awareness to real issues and the effects businesses have on the world and on communities. i honestly am sketched out of pretty much all ‘big’ businesses these days, cause they usually are up to no good! and if coca cola owns part of zico, ugh i trust it even less. haha and when did filtered tap water become such an uncool thing to drink? just bring a water bottle from home… just as good! ;)

  • Courtney

    I see from her comment that Annie is very passionate about these topics, and she may be entirely correct. The thing that drives me crazy about comments like that is how off-putting they are. All I heard was “Everyone is doing everything wrong all of the time, even when they think they are doing something right.” I could stop drinking coconut water and start doing yoga exclusively at home, but then I’d be drinking my tap water from the wrong container and doing the wrong kind of yoga on the wrong kind of mat. It’s exhausting, so why bother? Comments like that alienate me; and the worst offenders wouldn’t hear a word of it.

  • I’ve heard about the hydrating qualities of coconut water but it only reminds me of coconut milk, which makes me gag. Does it taste much different? The Coco Craze did spread like wildfire though, so it has to be more than an acquired taste. Or people are at least pretending they like it because it’s all the rage. (Much like Kombucha. I can’t believe that so many people actually like the taste of this stuff, but it is good for you. Wish I could get into it.) But I digress. I’m curious to see how this trend plays out. No doubt with the backing of Coca Cola, it will go further than it would without corporate support. But I’m glad to know about smaller companies like Amy and Brian. If I do try coconut water, I will go with someone less commercial like them. Thanks for the tip! The quotes you pulled for your post did pose some interesting questions that I might address on my own blog: Is yoga a “craze”? Is wellness a trend? Hmmmm….

  • P

    Fascinating that the initial target marketing group were yoga enthusiasts, then the product grew from there. Is such the influence of the yoga scene? re: the product, the boxed stuff tastes like bilge water to me (you’re funny YD :) , but when it’s fresh it’s delish.

  • Jason

    One of the biggest problems with the Coconut Water-Yoga thing is that you make a piece of trash after every yoga class. How about drinking some water out of the tap. Or buying a whole coconut, drinking its water, using the pulp in a yummy pie, and composting the rind.

    In addition, nowhere on a juice-box of Zico does it say that the coconuts are supplied by farms with fair labor practices. Nor are you encouraged to consider how much wild rainforest must be destroyed to create new farmland for an increased demand for coconuts. Surely with a 100% increase in demand in such a short amount of years they don’t just pick them off of desert islands.

    Keep your yoga practice kind and simple. Don’t muddy it with extraneous consumerism.

  • Missy

    Not to knock your suggestion, jason, but now I have a funny visual in my head of people with coconuts, hammers, and nails in their yoga bags, pounding holes in them for a drink after class (this is the way my dad always got started opening a coconut).

  • shannon

    It seems too expensive to me. You can get electrolytes from just plain old tangerines. I just drink filtered water from a glass bottle. (Also I do yoga at home, b/c it’s too expensive to go to a studio.)

  • Speaking of non-fads that are re-packaged so people will pay more for a product (goji berries, ugh)…

    Really, coconut water only makes sense to me if it’s straight from a coconut or if it’s been freshly thawed w/ chunks of coconut in it. Seriously, I can’t even relay what a horrible experience juice-flavored coconut water was like.

    I contend that the only reason why coconut water has been spring-boarded by yoga-ers is because they are are both fairly sanitized and re-branded for mass consumption (of the middle/upper-middle/upper class).
    High-gloss, barebones substance.

  • coso

    Gesus, this girl is a monster. Who in the world will buy anything with her face?

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