You can forgive him for being a little blown away by the response, but Michael Kirban probably should have realized this was going to happen. Soon after announcing that an extraordinarily high-profile group of investors – including Madonna and a small cohort of celebrities – were going to be putting their money into Vita Coco, the fast-growing coconut water brand he owns, things went a little crazy around the office.
The announcement that the veteran pop star and her business manager, as well as other celebrities, including actors Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore and rock star Anthony Kiedis would be purchasing what Kirban called roughly 10 percent of the company was more than just a boost to the brand’s financial profile – it was a huge push in terms of publicity, he said.
“The announcement went out on Madonna’s Facebook page, and all of a sudden, it went to about 1.9 million people,” Kirban said. “We had about ten times our usual web traffic.”
The deal was brokered through one of Madonna’s agent, Guy Oseary, who also matched her reported $1.5 million investment. According to Kirban, Oseary’s wife is a model from Brazil, a country where coconut water has become an incredibly popular beverage category. The move rings true with the brand’s image of healthy nutrition and good times – to the point where McConaughey had been included in sales presentations as the company’s ideal consumer.
“That is hot,” said one beverage consultant regarding the deal. “It’s just plain hot.”
But the news that the “Material Girl” would move from dedicated Vita Coco consumer to investor in the company means a great deal to the brand’s public profile in the U.S. And it’s an unexpected windfall: according to Kirban, the company is still too small to try to get paid spokespeople on board, so the fact that it is getting a financial endorsement from the celebrities is even more valuable.
“We could never pay enough to use their names – and instead, the real story becomes that they want to be investors,” Kirban said. “Aside from the money, this is a real marketing opportunity.”
Of course, with the extra exposure, Vita Coco is now likely going to face a situation where more consumers are aware of the brand – and will want to try it. That means quickly rolling out into new channels. Last year, Vita Coco did not do much in terms of expanding its geographic footprint or adding new distribution – although sales did double, to about $20 million, in what Kirban called a “foundational year” – and awareness also grew with the category. This year, a new program with GNC should help fill the gaps, increasing doors by about 25 percent, he said.