KANSAS CITY – As consumers continue to go loco for coconut water, a new wave of products has the trend trickling into other categories. Think frozen novelties and powdered sports drink mixes.
“I’ve seen coconut water used in a prepared vodka cocktail and in whipped toppings as a dairy alternative,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Duiven, The Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights. “It’s also been used in smoothies for kids. The popularity of coconut water has spread to other categories, and in 2012, the Innova Database tracked 21% more products containing coconut or with coconut flavor than in 2011.”
Touted for its hydration benefits, potassium-rich coconut water has been positioned as both a sports recovery beverage and a lower-calorie alternative to sweetened juices and soft drinks. To stand out in an oversaturated market, companies are adding extras, such as pulp or probiotics, or offering different formats and flavors.
Brooklyn-based RealBeanz supplemented its canned coffee beverages last year with an iced cappuccino and an iced dark roast both made with 20% coconut water and containing half the calories of the company’s other iced coffee beverages. GoodBelly, a maker of probiotic juices in Boulder, Colo., added coconut water with probiotics, promoting a bonus benefit of digestive health alongside its other attributes. Several manufacturers, including San Francisco-based Zola, produce coconut water with pulp for a textural twist on the trend.
Nestle Dreyer’s this year took a crack at the craze with Outshine Coconut Waters frozen fruit bars. Made with coconut water, the non-dairy, non-fat pops are available in banana and pineapple flavors and contain 60 calories each. Similarly, LifeIce bite-size freeze-and-eat treats debuted this year in berry, chocolate, citrus and green varieties made with coconut water and agave.
The cold-pressed juice line from Evolution Fresh Inc., a division of Starbucks Corp., includes a pineapple juice blended with coconut water, which adds flavor with fewer calories.
Big Tree Farms, Ashland, Ore., highlights coconut water’s role in sports recovery by offering a powdered format fortified with ionic trace minerals and sea salt for additional electrolytes. Flavors include lemon-lime, pineapple and pomegranate raspberry.
Navitas Naturals, Novato, Calif., this year expanded its organic freeze-dried coconut water powders to include chocolate and goldenberry varieties, boosted by such “superfood” ingredients as camu camu and raw cacao.
To stay afloat, category leaders continue expanding with new flavors and lines. New York-based Vita Coco this summer launched Vita Coco Kids, a line of coconut water beverages for children ages 2 to 8. In apple, fruit punch and cherry flavors, the products contain fewer calories and less sugar than many other children’s beverages, according to the company. The Coca-Cola Co.’s Zico has supplemented its more traditional fruit flavors of pineapple and mango with less common varieties, such as latte and chocolate berry.
North America leads the number of product launches, with 35% of global coconut water introductions in 2012, according to recent research from Chicago-based Mintel International. U.S. consumers may be more familiar with the electrolyte benefits of the beverage than those in other regions, the report said.
Low-, no- or reduced-fat product claims were represented on 47% of 2012 launches, while allergen- or gluten-related claims accounted for 43%, and 40% of the products were branded as natural, according to Mintel.
“Coconut water appeals to consumers looking for healthier alternatives to juice or traditional soft drinks,” Ms. Williams said. “It also appeals to consumers looking for new flavors. It’s a familiar flavor with a new texture and taste.”
Granted, some coconut water products have not soaked up that sweet success. So Delicious Dairy Free, a division of Turtle Mountain L.L.C., no longer makes its 2010-launched coconut water-based sorbet line, and Rockstar has discontinued the coconut water energy drink it introduced in 2011.
Still, Ms. Williams sees more category growth ahead.
“I think coconut water is here to stay,” she said. “Since 2009, Innova Market Insights has tracked more than 250 coconut water beverages in the U.S., and growth is steady. There is no slowdown in consumer interest in more simple and natural products, and coconut water meets those needs.”