The Coconut Wars

by Christopher Paul on July 28, 2014

The New York Times wrote up an interesting story of how the two biggest coconut water companies have battled it out for the top spot in a $400m market.

Michael Kirban, who with a buddy founded Vita Coco, and Mark Rampolla, who founded its archrival Zico, happened to start selling nearly identical brands, in the same neighborhoods of New York City, at almost the same time — a week or two apart, in late 2004.

Those in the fray called it the coconut water wars. Each side quickly bulked up with sales teams and tried to win over Manhattan, one grocery store and yoga studio at a time.

The fighting quickly got ugly. It included simple acts of retail vandalism, like tossing the competition’s signs in the garbage, as well as attempts at psychological point-scoring that could charitably be described as sophomoric. Mr. Kirban sometimes placed a container of Zico beside a sleeping vagabond, took a photograph and then emailed it to Mr. Rampolla. And on more than a few occasions, the Zico sales force showed up outside Vita Coco’s offices, then near Union Square, and handed out free Zico samples.

I never knew that New York City is where the trend (as well as other major beverage brands such as Vitaminwater, Snapple and Arizona) got its start. Another fascinating tidbit is that these companies got started by going to bodegas at night and negotiating with the owners directly to stock their product. It makes me wonder if I’ve seen (or bought) the next big trend or brand without knowing it.

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