Kiwi turns to coconuts

FIONA ROTHERHAM
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014
Grier Govorko
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ

YUM FACTOR: Grier Govorko claims Coaqua tastes better than other coconut water brands because of the young age of coconuts used.

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New Zealand-born designer Grier Govorko is not an obvious guy to be touting coconut water.

He was the production designer/creative director for the Red Hot Chili Peppers until 2006 and has since tried his hand at a couple of business ventures including a new sort of bed and high-end speakers. Four years ago, he and long-time friend and fellow Kiwi Steve Gilberd were casting around for something to help make their fortunes and started investigating coconut water, a drink claimed to have health benefits that was becoming trendy in places like the United States.

Gilberd, now living in Hong Kong, has experience in premium food and beverage businesses, having owned and operated three commercial bakeries, run catering teams in the US and he owned and ran Auckland-based Italian restaurant Bella.

As part of their research into coconut water, Govorko called his friend and former employer Anthony Kiedis, the frontman for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and asked if he or any of the band were drinking the beverage. He was surprised to learn that not only was Kiedis drinking it, but he, along with Madonna and Rihanna, had invested in a brand called Vita Coco. It pioneered coconut water into the US in 2006 and now holds a 60 per cent share of the category.

For a while the two entrepreneurs worried that the US market for the beverage was already too crowded, but they then decided there was a gap for a premium brand sold into the hospitality sector.

Govorko, who bases himself in Bangkok, Los Angeles and Auckland, eventually found a supplier in Vietnam. The coconuts are harvested in the Mekong Delta, mainly by small-scale farmers who on-sell to brokers. The whole coconuts are harvested when young and green to preserve the flavour of the water and shipped two hours up the river on barges to Ho Chi Minh City where the water is bottled.

Gilberd and Govorko combined their design and food and beverage experience to produce the brand, Coaqua, which they claim is better-tasting than others on the market due to the young age of the coconuts supplied. Coaqua also comes in stylish glass bottles, rather than the traditional plastic tetrapaks, for environmental reasons.

One of the major headaches in launching the brand had been getting the supply chain right, with language difficulties sometimes delaying progress, Govorko said.

The pair each have a 45 per cent stake in the New Zealand-registered company, Coco's Coconut Trading, while veteran US creative director Alan Platt, who works for online travel company Agoda.com in Bangkok, is a silent partner with just under 10 per cent.

Coaqua was launched in New Zealand four months ago as a test market to sort out distribution kinks before hitting the Australian and the US markets next year. The 250ml bottles are being sold in bars, restaurants and specialty food markets such as Farro for between $3.80 and $5.00 each.

The goal was to be selling one container load a month within 18 months. So far they're just sold their first container load which Govorko said was on target. Product extensions including sparkling and fruit variations are likely by next summer.

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They're now looking for an Australian distributor and have already signed a distribution deal with a premium lifestyle hotel brand opening its first US property in Miami in the next few months. Gilberd is also working on a deal with French luxury brand Givenchy to supply its high-end customers in China with the beverage and Govorko has done a deal with a Californian friend who has a catering business that services the rock and roll industry, to offer them Coaqua while on tour.

Govorko is confident it will be word of mouth referrals rather than spending a lot on marketing that will make the brand succeed globally.

"It's the same thing I did with Q Speakers, to make something as close to perfect as you can and keep refining it, and it sells itself."

There were plenty of examples of that, including Sriracha, a hot sauce made from chilli peppers that was now a booming business in California and yet the company behind it never spent one cent on advertising, he said. You'd think, given the band's name, Kiedis would be imbibing that, too.

DID YOU KNOW?

* Coconut water is the clear liquid derived from the coconut and is full of vitamins and minerals.

* Young coconut water is one of the highest sources of electrolytes in nature and it is often popular as a sports rehydration drink.

* The molecular structure of coconut water is identical to human blood plasma.

* A bottle of coconut water has the same amount of potassium as four bananas.

* Coconut water has relatively no fat content and contains only a fifth of the sugar content of other fruits.

* Claimed health benefits include improved digestion, boosting the immune system, decreasing heat stroke, and increasing blood circulation in diabetics and anti-ageing treatments.

- Sunday Star Times

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