Vita Coco’s UK CEO Giles Brook says he would welcome a strong rival to accelerate growth in coconut water and predicts £75m sales for his brand in 2014.
Chatting to BeverageDaily.com, Brook, who was Innocent Drinks’ UK and Ireland commercial manager until 2009, says there are now 39 coconut water brands on sale in the UK, but Vita Coco holds sway at the top of the coconut tree with a 91% share.
Claiming that Vita Coco is the fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage brand in the UK - yesterday the brand announced a lemonade flavored variant of its flag product in the US, see photo below - Brook predicts that that coconut water will be a £100m ($167m) UK retail category by the end of this year.
“But over the next two to three years I’d like to take it to a £250m pound sterling category, with our share being 60-70%,” Brook says, noting that 75% of Vita Coco’s drinks are incremental to UK supermarket sales – so if they aren’t available, consumers won’t switch.
But Brook believes Vita Coco would benefit from other brands investing money in national advertising and furthering consumer understanding of coconut water’s benefits.
“It’s quite tough building a category. It’s wrong to say we’ve done it on our own. But another really strong, great tasting brand investing heavily would be great for us and the category,” he says.
‘Slugging it out’ in the States with Zico and O.N.E
What Red Bull and have done in energy and Innocent Drinks has done in juice and smoothies, Brook wants to do in coconut water – positioned cutely as a ‘lifestyle and sports drink’ – and he sees massive headspace in what he calls “the next big beverage category globally”.
“In the US coconut water will hit $1bn in sales this year. Our share is 61% in the US, and for five years Vita Coco has been slugging it out against Coke with Zico, Pepsi with O.N.E and Naked over there,” Brook says.
“The nearest share of any of those guys is 19%, so our share is three times bigger. It’s a real endorsement of the brand that it’s got such resilience, but there’s no room for complacency.”
As a high quality, not-for-concentrate drink that is 100% natural, Brook says Vita Coco resonates with consumers, although he warns that cheaper offerings could harm the wider category.
Coca Café is a ‘sleeping giant’ – Hard launch in 2014
“Cheaper operators with a lower value and entry point do have a role to play with certain consumers. That said, the majority of the canned coconut waters are full of added sugars and preservatives, particularly sulphur dioxide,” Brook says.
“That’s just not part of our brand DNA. Look at juice as well. You can pick up something that’s a tenth of the price of Tropicana, but it’s all relative in terms of product integrity and quality,” he adds.
Innovation is in Vita Coco’s brand DNA, Brook insists, and he identifies coconut water, coffee and milk fusion Coca Café as a “sleeping giant” that the firm will hard launch in 2014.
Coco Café drink was soft launched in 2013 with a couple of customers, and Brook says they told him it was the fastest-selling drink in their portfolios.
“We’re really going after Coca Café now – because the RTD coffee market is strong and we believe we can help accelerate that category further, with listings in at least four supermarkets this year and seven high profile national at-home chains,” Brook says.
Coffee break, Coke break, Coca Café break?
He agrees that harnessing the power of the ‘coffee break’ as a consumption occasion, the new brand offers hydration and energy in a healthier package, and can help make Vita Coco’s core coconut water offering more mainstream.
“With Coca Café, you’re looking at breakfast, someone who wants something mid-afternoon, people who take tea or coffee breaks. Such innovations feed into these need states,” Brook says.
"Take Vita Coco Orange as well, with orange puree," he adds. "This targets sport, where orange-based drinks are big. But it also helps us tap into breakfast, with a drink with a more hydrating profile than juice. And Kids’ takes us to a new younger demographic.”
Vita Coco Kids’ was launched in Waitrose this March, and other major UK listings are coming online.
Media field day on juice fuels sales
Brook says he is happy with sales well ahead of forecasts for this brand, adding that one big advantage it hasis that it is one of only a few ‘schools compliant’ drinks that can be sold to UK children.
“Talking again about sleeping giants, one area that’s huge for us is kids’ drinks. The scrutiny on sugar levels in kids’ drinks is massive, and this has 20% less sugar than leading juice and smoothie brands on the market,” he says.
Asked who Vita Coco’s rivals were beyond coconut water, Brook says water drinkers are entering the category for enhanced hydration and a new taste profile, while the brand also harnesses its natural, isotonic benefits in the sports sector and speaks to health and wellness concerns generally.
“Obviously at the moment the media is having a field day over the amount of sugar and calories in juice – we are seeing a load of consumers switch out of juice and smoothies and come to us as a healthy option,” he says.
This is because Vita Coco’s non-flavored coconut water has up to 60% fewer calories than juices and smoothies, Brook adds, with 60kcal per 330ml Tetra Prisma package.