Cracking international? Obrigado coconut water touts sustainability in global push

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Roberto Lessa, global CEO of Grupo Aurantiaca
Roberto Lessa, global CEO of Grupo Aurantiaca
Obrigado hopes its barcoded trees, patented extraction method, and zero-waste goal will buoy strong global growth as it cracks deeper into the increasingly competitive coconut water category.

The global packaged coconut water market will surpass $8.3bn by 2023, according to market research firm Aritzon, growing “significantly” ​at a CAGR of 25%. And forecasts suggest major FMCG players and retailers will join the category in the coming years.

The Obrigado coconut water​ brand, established by Brazilian coconut producer Grupo Aurantiaca​ in 2014, is currently stocked across more than 46,000 points of sale in Brazil and exported to a large part of the US and UK. The brand also recently finalized another distribution deal to the US with Hudson Distributors, securing expansion across the US's East coast.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-LATAM, Roberto Lessa, global CEO of Grupo Aurantiaca, said the company had a clear, strategic plan for the coming years.

“Our three main objectives are to increase our planted area, expand our operations into international markets, and launch new products with higher added value,”​ Lessa said.

Grupo Aurantiaca currently worked across 6,000 hectares of land in the Bahia state of Brazil but plans were in place to expand farmed land by a further 524 hectares this year, he said. By 2020, the company wanted 450,000 coconut trees, producing an estimated 108m liters in beverages.

'Beginning phases' of export

Obrigado Fruit Blends

In the coming months, Obrigado would also debut a juice blend line and a coconut milk product, Lessa said. Further expansion into the US, Europe and entry into Canada should, he said, be strengthened by these new product lines.

“Our export business is in the beginning phases but our goal is that soon it will be bigger than our domestic market in Brazil.”

The biggest challenge with expanding, he said, was ensuring the home market was not neglected.

Asked if product messaging would be changed moving into new markets, he said: “No matter which country or city you live in, our story remains the same: we're a company that's obsessed with coconuts and the environment.”

Grupo Aurantiaca wanted to develop a “culture of operational excellence”​, he said, to manage resources in a responsible, sustainable and profitable manner.

A 'unique farming' method

Lessa said the company prided itself on being 100% traceable thanks to its “unique farming method”​ with barcoded trees and high-precision irrigation systems.

Each tree's barcode was used by the team of local farmers to track each tree and make decisions on water and manure needed, he said. The barcode system was linked to a centralized control room that then connected to an irrigation system to give each tree exactly what it needed, he said. 

“This makes the operation also very sustainable, since a precise minimal amount of all the resources can be given to an individual tree,”​ Lessa said.

Harvesting of the coconuts was done whilst they were young and green to ensure a naturally sweeter taste profile, he said, and milk was then extracted using Grupo Aurantiaca's patented extraction method, preventing any air or light coming into contact with the coconut milk. Air and light altered the taste, Lessa said, so this method ensured a higher quality, better tasting end-product.

Zero-waste future

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The global packaged coconut water market will surpass $8.3bn by 2023. Image © Getty Images / cherrybeans

Whilst dedicated to international expansion, he said the company wanted to achieve a zero-waste goal, which meant the firm had to try and use every part of the coconut – water, flesh but also the coconut husk.

“We're always researching and investing in unique ways to create new products that leverage the whole coconut,” ​he said. The coconut milk set to debut this summer, for example, would utilize the flesh of each coconut harvested for the coconut water products, he said.

Grupo Aurantiaca also worked with its sister firm Frysk Industrial to turn dry coconut husk into biodegradable, anti-erosion blankets that assisted revegetation of slopes and embankments and optimized the process of recuperating degraded land.

Lessa said sustainability aligned with consumer interests and demands: “Today, consumers are more focused on sustainable and eco-friendly companies. They want to consume a product that not only tastes great but also positively impacts the environment.”

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