Michael Kirban, a young beverage entrepreneur with affable eyes and the round head of a coconut, sat in the cool shade of a conference room on a recent Tuesday, clutching a box of juice. The box was Carnaval-colored, splattered with a private beach’s worth of sand, surf, and palm trees, which may have explained the goofily tropical theme that pervaded the room—from the frond-green carpeting to the small sandbox planted with two potted palms. All that was missing was the babe in the thong bikini.
The juice box itself had a healthy dose of writing on it—bold, motivational sayings that implored the drinker to REHYDRATE, REJUVENATE, REVITALIZE or, simply, “Fuel up. Naturally.” It was vaguely octagonal in shape, and within its angled walls sloshed 11.2 ounces of a substance that Mr. Kirban referred to alternately, reverently, as a “carbonation vacation,” a “vacation in a bottle,” a “natural isotonic” and a “hangover cure.” Sometimes he simply called it by its given name, Vita Coco.
“It’s coconut water!” said Mr. Kirban, 32, with a salesman’s enthusiasm. “It’s got 15 times more electrolytes than the leading sports drink and two bananas worth of Potassium per serving—which is why we’re not marketing it as just a juice. If it was just a juice, I don’t think it would sell like it sells.”
Mr. Kirban has been marketing, and selling, Vita Coco for nearly three years now, offering it to the thirsty masses as one of the latest self-help power liquids. He co-founded and runs the business with his friend, Ira Liran, 29, who covers the production and export side of things in Brazil. By their own admission, it is nothing more (or less) than coconut water, the clear if slightly spoogey substance that tropics-dwellers have been slurping from coconuts for centuries. (Not to be confused with coconut milk, the goopy-sweet coconut extract that is larded with fat and calories but probably tastes a whole lot yummier.) Repackaged as a Super Beverage, coconut water is a powerful rehydrant, a hangover cure, a genie in a loud, beachy bottle.
“We’re trying to rehydrate the world one coconut at a time,” declared Mr. Liran, 29, speaking to the Observer from his adopted city, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Now, with a shiny new sales contract with Target, the duo is also hoping to hydrate their business prospects—perhaps even get lucky someday like Glacéau, the Queens-based maker of Vitamin Water, which recently sold out to Coca-Cola. The price tag for the Glacéau deal was a mouth-watering $4.1 billion. But its real significance may have been the affirmation, even apotheosis, of functional beverages—those performance-boosting Super Drinks that lure consumers with that most American of all promises: Consume your way to a better you.
As the text on the side panel of the Vita Coco box blares, “This 100% pure life enhancing beverage has also been proven to increase vitality, ease digestion, cure hangovers and literally save people’s lives.”
Call it better living through Vita Coco.