Expo West Preview: Zola, Vita Coco Squeeze Coconut Water Into Lemonade

Okay, we’ll call it a draw.

Zola and Vita Coco have tied in the race to be the first to announce that they will be rolling out a product that combines two of the fastest-growing beverage trends, coconut water and lemonade.

Both brands will be sampling their versions of the product at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. next week and both are planning a May rollout. Zola is going ingredient-first, calling its product “Coconut Water Lemonade,” while Vita Coco is sticking with the brand, calling itself “Vita Coco Lemonade.”

Both brands see it as a way to add a mainstream interpretation of the coconut water ingredient — something that has become much more common every day but still has a long consumer runway — to attract new drinkers, and not to cannibalize existing ones.

“It’s about bringing incremental consumers into the brand, which is what the retailer wants,” Zola CEO Chris Cuvelier said. “What I like is that it goes back to incrementality — you get that hydration of coconut water with the refreshment of the lemonade, and it’s not as exotic, not as reductive.”

Similarly, Michael Kirban, the co-founder of Vita Coco, said his company was trying to broaden its product platform.

“We’re not looking to innovate in coconut water with this,” Kirban said. “We’re innovating with different product offerings.”

Hence the name Vita Coco Lemonade — a product that Kirban said “tastes like a really good lemonade but is 90 percent coconut water.”

Zola’s product will be available in a 1 L Tetra-Pak container; it has 45 calories per serving and has an MSRP of $4.99.

Vita Coco’s product, which has 70 calories per 8 oz. serving, will debut in New York City in 330 and 500 mL Tetra-Pak containers; their MSRPs will be $1.99 for the smaller container and $2.99 for the larger one. Kirban said it will roll out nationally soon after. It will be positioned as an afternoon refreshment, potentially attracting consumers in the Southeast and Midwest — regions where, with the exception of Florida, growth has lagged behind the coasts.

“This is really our most mainstream flavor,” Kirban said. “It was one of those things that we thought, after we tasted it, we have to make it.”

As for the dash to be the first, both CEO’s acknowledged it as meaningful but not strategically necessary, particularly given the difference of scale between the two brands: Zola has about $20 million in sales, while Vita Coco exceeds $200 million. They’ve both been on strong growth paths as coconut water consumption has continued to grow in the U.S.

“Does it make us joyous that there’s another entrant? No,” Kirban said. “But if you look at the numbers, the size of the business prize we’re going after, we’re looking at the Gatorades of the world, the Red Bulls. So we’ll innovate when we see opportunity.”

Cuvelier, for his part, said he wasn’t surprised at all to hear that another brand was planning to debut a coconut water/lemonade hybrid — he and his staff had put the over/under at three companies, he said. But, he added, the fact the category leader was one of the ones introducing the style was not going to change Zola’s approach.

“We’ve always been the little guy going up against the big guy,” he said. “We just need to keep with our strategy that’s working, not bite off more than we can chew. It’s reassuring, in a way, that it’s not just Zola and our limited marketing budget going after this, it’s the whole category.”