GT’s Kombucha Acquires, Rebrands Tula’s CocoKefir

gtscoco970Millennium Products, Inc., the parent company of GT’s Kombucha, has acquired Tula’s CocoKefir, the maker of coconut-based kefirs and yogurts that are fermented with vegan probiotic cultures. The transaction took place earlier this year, according to Millennium Products founder GT Dave, who told BevNET that he has long had a fondness for Tula’s products.

“I have an affinity for fermented foods‎ which is not limited to just Kombucha,” Dave said in an email to BevNET. “I’ve been personally consuming Coconut Water Kefir for many years now and always knew it would become a part of our family of products. I was just waiting for the stars to align.”

Tula’s CocoKefir was founded in 2009 by husband and wife team Michael and Holly Larsen, who launched the brand after seeing the benefits that probiotic-rich foods had on their autistic daughter Tula. The Larsens claimed that Tula’s autism stemmed from a severe gastrointestinal condition and that fermented foods helped her overcome her health issues. Dave said that the Larsens’ “personal journey convinced me that we needed to work together.”

Following the acquisition, Tula’s Young Coconut Kefir drinks and its CocoYo yogurt were rebranded as GT’s products. Asked if they had also undergone a reformulation, Dave said that only that “the plan has been to preserve [their] high quality and integrity,” and noted that the Larsens are “now part of the GT’s Family.”

“CocoKefir and CocoYo were these ‘gems’ they created and that I wanted to be instrumental in making it more widely available,” Dave said. He noted that “I feel it’s important for ‎us to always push the envelope with innovation, authenticity, and nature-crafted living foods.”

According to a company sell sheet, GT’s CocoKefir is made using young coconuts that are cracked at the company’s production facility in Los Angeles. The water is fermented in small batches using vegan probiotics and contains 15-30 billion active probiotics per 4 oz. serving. One major update to the formulation has been the removal of stevia, which Tula’s had used to lightly sweeten the beverage; it now contains no added sugar or sweeteners. Described by GT’s as a “Living Coconut Water,” CocoKefir is vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free and comes in three flavor varieties: Pure, Cacao and Matcha. The drinks are packaged in GT’s familiar 16.2 oz. glass bottle and have a suggested retail price of $11.49.

GT’s CocoYo is crafted using organic coconuts from Thailand. The company extracts coconut meat and coconut water at its facility and adds vegan cultures, and a hint of vanilla and stevia. GT’s promotes the product as a “fluffy and tangy yogurt-like treat.” CocoYo contains 15-30 billion active probiotics per serving and is made with no gums, fillers, emulsifiers, stabilizers, or preservatives. Packaged in a 16 oz. jar, the yogurt retails for $5.99.

The yogurt is the first food product marketed by GT’s, but it might not be the last, according to Dave.

“It’s exciting for us to play outside of the beverage aisle and we feel that this could be‎ the beginning of a new frontier with our product offerings,” Dave said.

The products are currently sold at select retailers in California, and GT’s is aiming to expand distribution nationally.

Although the launch of GT’s CocoKefir and CocoYo was met with praise on social media, not everyone is pleased. In September Lifeway Foods Inc., which produces the leading brand of dairy-based kefir in the U.S., sued Millennium Products alleging that the company “misleadingly suggests” its kefir is made from fermented milk. Lifeway claimed that kefir is a dairy product “made primarily from the milk of cows, but can also be made from the milk of sheep or goats” and that “genuine kefir cannot be made from the non-dairy ‘milk’ or ‘water’ of plants, whether coconuts or otherwise.” Moreover, Lifeway cited a U.S. Food and Drug Administration definition of kefir as a “cultured milk” produced using dairy-based ingredients as further evidence that Millennium’s use of the word is false advertising.

The case had a relatively short shelf life; last Wednesday a judge granted Millennium’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit .