Expo East 2010: Coconut Water Stands Proud

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Just when it seemed that the coconut water category had reached its peak, companies at this year’s Natural Products Expo East conference and trade show, which took place at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center provided a series of new takes on the products. From O.N.E’s kid-friendly juice box offerings to Zico, VPX and Vita Coco’s new flavors, to a host of new companies, brands in the category are still out to impress, even as the category matures.

The new entrants into the category were one of the most evident points of Expo East, which will be the last one held in Boston for the time being. While many exhibitors observed that this year’s event covered less floor space in preparation for the move, the range of old and new products at Expo East nevertheless presented a broad survey of the natural channel.

In terms of coconut water companies at the event, old favorites shared the space with some new hopefuls. Category veteran Zico had a large, bright booth and was sampling its new mango flavor. Those who really love their coconut water might be interested to learn that Zico will be adding a liter-sized bottle to its lineup and has also established its first production source in Asia. On the other hand, O.N.E released its new Kids Active offering that blended the coconut water with fruit flavors. According to company president Steve Coston, the product was launched as a way to keep “filling out the portfolio” despite the fact that its “mainstay is straight coconut water.” O.N.E is also currently available “everywhere through the natural channel,” he said, and is working with PepsiCo on distribution in Southern California and South Florida.

Of course, being a natural products trade show, the focus was never far from beverages and other products that claim to enhance health and well-being. For instance, the founder and CEO of Dry soda, Sharelle Klaus, is trying to make “a soda that you can give to your family.” She explained that the company recently redesigned its packaging to highlight the product’s low-sugar profile and short ingredient list. The clear bottles with prominently-marked calorie counts and the inclusion of Klaus’ personal story on the box all position the beverage as healthy, personable and a direct alternative to mainstream products, she said. Additionally, Klaus announced that the product had just hit Wegman’s stores across the country and launched new blood orange and reformulated rhubarb flavors.

In a similar vein, Switch sparkling juice continued to present itself as a kid-friendly soda alternative. Company president Maura Mottolese explained how the product is now being sold in 4,000 schools nationwide. Additionally, to promote portion control, the decision was made to change the can size from 12 oz. to 8 oz. While Switch is experiencing expanded distribution and has entered Costco stores across the West Coast in addition to 1,200 Kroger stores, Mottolese explained that consumers will have to wait until later this year for a “brand new,” limited-edition flavor which will ultimately hit shelves before the close of 2010. Even though most details are still under wraps, Mottolese did reveal that the can will match the exclusive flavor with a “breakout” graphic.

Not all new products at Expo East played with fruit flavors and kid-friendly ingredients. In fact, it seems that Rob’s Really Good might be trying to get little ones – or at least busy female professionals – to try and drink their greens. The company was sampling its new Salad beverage that combines spinach, celery, carrot and sweet potato juice with pear flavors for a “feel good product” that satisfies a “need in the market for something simple with basic nutrition,” according to company founder, Rob Erlich. While primarily geared towards women, it seems Erlich is optimistic about this market opening, for he revealed that he is also planning a broccoli and kale beverage and a yam drink.

Salad flavors weren’t the only unconventional introduction on the trade show floor. The curious new Mato from Harmless Harvest incorporated hard-to-pronounce ingredients like Cupuacu, Camu Camu and Guarana into its coconut water-based drink. With a focus on “wild-harvesting” of ingredients and “wild-growing” fruit, this brand new product developed by former corporate types turned self-described “tree-huggers” was at the show to bring a new take on the functional beverage category, according to company representatives.

Fortunately, curious flavors and ingredients were not ubiquitous at Expo East. For instance, Maine Root launched their new lemonade made from a recipe that company president Mark Seiler explained has been kicking around for a long time. The beverage used maple syrup as a sweetener and allowed the company to “bring something new to the show and hopefully follow up from last year,” when Maine Root took home the Best New Product award for its pumpkin pie soda. Similarly, Honest Tea launched its new caffeine-free, Lemon Tulsi Tea that incorporates the Indian herb known as “Holy Basil” into its recipe. The company also announced that it will be entirely fair trade by the first quarter of 2011.

In terms of kombucha, several companies announced they were catching up to demand in the wake of this year’s recall. Honest Tea public relations manager Samme Menke explained that brewing started up again a month ago but it might take a little longer to get product back into stores. Tizane is currently in the process of reformulating its kombucha and is developing two new products, according to company representatives. Vibranz – the first company to get product back on shelves post-recall – is currently in 1,200 stores and hoping to continue moving product to the east coast. While it doesn’t yet have any new flavors, the company is aiming to continue its eastward expansion and get product back on shelves as it works with UNFI, Kehe and Rainforesta in the local New York City market. While potentially a bit more quirky to swallow than coconut water, these products indicated that kombucha category seems to be making a healthy comeback. In fact, one company, Caveman Foods, went as far as to feature its kombucha alternative, which is similarly fermented but uses a different culture, company representatives explained.

Even the simplest beverage was the subject of innovation at Expo East, proving water still has its place on shelves and in consumers’ bottles. From Penta’s uber-purified water that aimed to assuage consumer’s fears about under-hydration to the back-to-basics Summit Spring water from Maine, companies were even finding ways to make this life-giving liquid trendy. Herbal Water perhaps best dressed up good old H2O by infusing the liquid with a range of flavors designed to eventually enter restaurants and fill the “void between Pellegrino and wine,” according to director of operations, Nicole Erdosy. As such, the company has been looking to consider pairing foods with its line and has enjoyed most recently through a recent sweepstakes that asked consumers to submit their favorite foods and water flavors.

Ayala’s Herbal Water sponsored BevNET’s 2010 Expo East show coverage. For more information, please visit http://www.herbalwater.com.

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