Alex Bayer had the idea to bring something beyond coconut water to the US market after a friend made him a smoothie blended from coconut meat and water. After he tasted it, he thought it was a ‘genius’ idea to use the whole coconut in a single beverage product.
Bayer spoke to BeverageDaily and described the drink as more of a meal replacement or supplement as compared to traditional coconut water. His smoothies also have half the sugar content of coconut water because the coconut meat balances it out.
He finds the lighter and less pungent taste and texture are winning over customers that were previously averse to coconut water. They are thicker and more filling, containing potassium, electrolytes, good fats and 4.3g of MCTs per bottle.
“Coconut water can be very polarizing. You either love it or you don’t. But we’ve converted a lot of people who don’t really like coconut water, and they actually really like our product,” Bayer said.
Functional, sweet coconuts
Genius got its start in southern California in 2014. Alex and the team have gone through three manufacturing partners in the last four years before settling on a vertically integrated facility in Thailand. The partner sources the coconuts themselves, then extracts, blends and bottles it in Thailand before shipping to the US.
“It took three years to find the right partner who could make the product with the right quality and scale it so we can grow with them as volume and demand grows in the states,” Bayer said.
The variety of young Thai coconut that Genius works with is naturally sweet, eliminating the need for added flavors and sweeteners. In the original product, there are two ingredients: organic coconut water and organic coconut meat.
Just last month, Genius added two flavors to the brand - Turmeric and Coffee. Bayer said he researched what flavors were trending in the natural channel and spilling over into the higher end conventional channel. They also wanted to focus on ingredients that are more functional and bring functional value to the customer.
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and is growing by about 40%-50% year-over-year. Cold, caffeinated RTD drinks are increasing annually as more young consumers gravitate toward the grab-and-go cold brew market.
Upcycling and expanding
Genius prides itself on being a zero-waste, mission-centric company. They donate the coconut husks to be upcycled in Thailand after the meat and water are extracted. The husks are converted into coconut charcoal and alternative energy.
The smoothies are now sold in more than 1,100 stores in seven regions throughout the US, including select Whole Foods. He wants to focus on expanding to more conventional retailers this year, with limited launches in Target and Sprouts stores later in 2019.
Genius kicked off its mainstream retail push at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim earlier this month. The team met with representatives from major stores like Walmart, HEB, Wegmans and Safeway.
Bayer said they were all receptive and interested in the smoothies because most larger retailers are expanding their functional set. More kombuchas and adaptogenic, probiotic drinks are cropping up outside traditional specialty stores as consumer demand grows.
At the Expo West show, Bayer found drinks containing functional ingredients like MCTs and good fats were a big hit. They are more about meal replacement with less sugar and more fiber. He also feels the large market of plant-based food and drinks “is definitely here to stay.”