How ZICO Got Its Flavor
A piece of high-hanging fruit inspired Mark Rampolla to step off the corporate ladder and into the beverage startup scene. In 2004, Rampolla was living in El Salvador running a packaging business for a FORTUNE 100 company. The former Peace Corps volunteer had become restless and was no longer passionate about his professional path.
After some serious soul-searching, he decided to pursue a more entrepreneurial path and plunge headfirst into the unchartered waters –of coconut water. He and his family had spent years sipping on the refreshing drink, which was a staple in Central and Latin American culture but had yet to reach the U.S. Rampolla launched ZICO Coconut Water.
Rampolla started out by selling the good stuff out of a van to New York City yoga studios. He couldn't make ZICO quickly enough. Thirsty yogis were hooked on its great taste and hydrating benefits.
In less than a decade, Rampolla grew his startup into a leader in a new beverage category. ZICO’s success has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to developing-world farmers while delighting American consumers. The Coca-Cola Company invested in ZICO in 2009 and acquired the brand in 2013.
That’s the condensed story of how ZICO the brand came to be. Now, let’s crack open what goes into the crisp, delicious ZICO you know and love, and how your favorite no-sugar-added 100% coconut water* eventually makes it into the bottles you drink.
The Start of Something Good.
It all starts in Thailand, where carefully selected suppliers source coconuts from thousands of local farmers, working directly with coconut plantations –many of which have been in families for generations. Since coconut supply in Thailand is relatively limited, ZICO sources a small percentage of its coconuts from the Philippines and Indonesia.
A blend of two types of coconuts are used to produce ZICO: older, more mature coconuts (between seven and eight months old), and younger, greener coconuts. Mature coconuts are primarily processed for their meat, while young coconuts are harvested only for their water.
“Mark Rampolla wanted to use naturally sweet-tasting coconuts to avoid having to add sugar to ZICO,” explains Chris Weavers, VP of operations, ZICO. “And he achieved that by blending mature Thai coconuts with young Thai coconuts, which combine to deliver a naturally sweet and uniquely nutty taste.”
Farmers harvest their trees every three weeks, yielding bunches of five to 12 coconuts. Palms are cut and lowered into canals to minimize damage before being transported to collection centers across Thailand.
There, workers crack open the coconuts and extract the water, straining and dispensing the liquid into bags by hand. Bulk coconut water is chilled in insulated coolers to bring the temperature down to approximately 4 degrees Celsius before being transported to a nearby packing facility.
There, the coconut water is gently pasteurized and blended to achieve desired sweetness before being filled into ZICO Tetra Pak cartons and PET bottles and shipped to the United States.
What happens to the rest of the coconut? Coconut meat is extracted and sold to produce coconut cream, oil, milk and more. Husks and shells enjoy a second life as mattresses, floor maps, rope, boxes and even charcoal.
ZICO Coconut Water supports hydration with five naturally occurring electrolytes: potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, and phosphorus. Coconut water is naturally fat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, dairy-free and cholesterol-free.
*ZICO is not a reduced-calorie food.