BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Here's something that could make Gilligan and the Skipper smile. Coconut water is making a splash in the beverage market, touted by manufacturers and fans as the healthy way to hydrate.
"It's an exciting category right now," says Arthur Gallego, spokesman for Vita Coco, which recently got an endorsement from none other than Madonna.
Coconut water — the liquid found in green, i.e. young, coconuts — has been popular in tropical countries ever since someone figured out how to crack that nut. And it's been available in packaged form in ethnic markets and natural food stores for some time in the United States.
But now it's showing up in mainstream supermarkets, packaged in juice-box style packages and coming in an array of flavors, such as peach-mango and tangerine.
"What is incredible to see is that the consumption of coconut water has trickled down from the natural food stores to the mainstream," says Rodrigo Veloso, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based O.N.E., One Natural Experience, makers of O.N.E. Coconut Water.
Veloso's company is bringing out a new product, O.N.E. Active — which sports fewer calories than its regular coconut water and adds ginkgo biloba, ginseng and catuaba — which comes in three flavors, including lemon-lime.
Yes, it's true. They are putting the lime in the coconut.
Already, coconut water has created some big-name buzz.
Besides Madonna, Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore recently invested in Vita Coco, which was founded in 2004 and saw sales jump from about $4 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2009, according to Gallego. Meanwhile, Pepsi has invested in O.N.E. A third company in the market is Zico, founded in 2004.
While coconut water sales are growing — in the $40 to $60 million range annually — they're still a drop in the bucket compared to billion-dollar drink brands like Red Bull, says Jeffrey Klineman, editor of Bevnet.com, an online review publication on nonalcoholic beverages.
"It's definitely got people excited, but we don't know how big it will be when it reaches the plateau," says Klineman. "The question is, is it a nine-figure plateau or a billion-dollar plateau. Whether they become part of the beverage firmament is still not really settled."
Fans of coconut water praise it for being relatively low calorie, natural and packed with important nutrients. For instance, an 11.2-ounce serving of Vita Coco contains almost 700-milligrams of potassium, more than a banana.
That's a good thing, since fruit-and-veggie-shy Americans often don't get enough potassium, says Andrea Giancoli, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. At about 60 calories for an 11-ounce serving of plain coconut water, a little more for the flavored versions, the drink delivers good nutritional value. Still, not that many people exercise with the intensity that requires more than plain water for rehydration and some aren't exercising at all, she points out.
"It's perfectly fine to incorporate into part of your diet if you're balancing out the rest of your diet, but I wouldn't believe all the hype," she says. "We live in this world where we're always trying to find the answer to health and the answer to weight. It still takes good old-fashioned exercise and healthy eating."
LeAnn Locher, a communications consultant in Portland, Ore., sees coconut water as a way to get the benefits of hydration "without all the sugar," that can come with other drinks.
She likes it as the base for smoothies made with frozen fruit, but is also up for drinking it plain, no need for flavor frills.
"I think it's really refreshing," she says.