Interview with iTi Tropicals' Gert van Manen

iTi: Coconut water concentrate could be the next pineapple juice concentrate

Last updated on 25-Feb-2014 at 16:16 GMT2014-02-25T16:16:22Z - By Maggie Hennessy
“Our goal is really to establish coconut water as an additional juice to blend with other juices. It’s not so much about the coconut water concentrate, but making coconut water a component of fruit juice blends, just like pineapple,” said iTi Tropicals president Gert van Manen. (Pictured: van Manen at a sustainability summit in Thailand, courtesy of iTi Tropicals)
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Gearing up for this week’s launch of coconut water concentrate acidified with acerola, ingredient supplier iTi Tropicals’ president Gert van Manen caught up with FoodNavigator-USA to talk about the market potential for coconut water, the ongoing attack on 100% juice and how the industry should respond.

“We want to continue building in coconut water because the market potential is still huge. We think coconut water concentrate could eventually be as big as pineapple concentrate,” van Manen said. Our goal is really to establish coconut water as an additional juice to blend with other juices. It’s not so much about the coconut water concentrate, but making coconut water a component of fruit juice blends, just like pineapple—but much lower in calories.

Building on its growing portfolio of coconut water concentrates, which iTi Tropicals first launched in 2009 (and still only has a handful of competitors), the firm is now marketing a lightly acidified blend of coconut water concentrate and acerola that van Manen said is a good fit for juice blends, fruit sodas and fruit sorbets.

iTi Tropicals evaluated various acidulents and fruit concentrates—such as lemon juice and lime juice—finding that acerola blends best with coconut water concentrate without imparting that characteristic citrus taste. “It tastes like coconut water with a very subtle acidic flavor; it’s not as harsh as if you just added citric acid,” van Manen said. “The vitamin C in acerola comes from ascorbic acid, which is a much milder acidity. It also enables you to have a clean label because the concentrate is made up of just acerola and coconut water.

With a pH below 4.35, the concentrate has enough vitamin C to deliver 100% of the US daily value per serving when reconstituted to a single-strength of 4.3-brix (before losses due to processing and shelf life). The blend also has a high volume dilution factor of more than 17.8, meaning that one volume of the concentrate can be reconstituted with 16.8 volumes of water to achieve single-strength 100% juice in accordance with FDA guidelines.

‘You could make a Trop 50 with coconut water that’s 100% juice and still with 40% fewer calories’

Using coconut water allows manufacturers to formulate juice products that are 100% juice with fewer overall calories (rather than diluting with water, which reduces the juice content proportionally). Indeed, an 8-ounce serving of coconut water contains 36 calories versus 140 for grape juice, 113 for orange and 150 for pomegranate. And because it's relatively bland, it doesn't interfere with other flavors.

"Take a look at a product like (Tropicana’s) Trop 50, which is 50% juice with 50% less calories,” van Manen said. “You could make a Trop 50 with coconut water that would be 100% juice and still with almost 40% fewer calories.”

Moreover, because iTi Tropicals’ coconut water concentrates are made from fully ripened coconuts as opposed to green (immature) coconuts, the product is more sustainable.

“Every part of the coconut is used when it is fully ripened,” he said. “People use the husk to make a fiber that’s turned into mattresses, the brown shell is used for activated carbon, and the white meat is used to make coconut cream and coconut oil. When you use immature coconuts, you only take the water, which we don’t view as sustainable. We’re trying to drive home that our products are clean, green and sustainable.”

Cleanest, least-processed packaged foods on the market are 100% juice products

Despite that the juice market has come under attack in recent years, the onus is ultimately on manufacturers to educate consumers on the benefits of 100% juice when consumed in moderation, van Manen said.

“The juice business getting a lot of bad publicity on the whole sugar thing, which I find hard to believe,” van Manen said. “Name me something that doesn’t have natural sugar. Does that mean people shouldn’t eat carrots or beets anymore?

“I don’t think you’ll find any cleaner beverage—besides water—than 100% fruit juice.You can’t ignore the facts, but we have to educate people because they make it sound in the media that 100% juice is sugar water, which is just ridiculous. There are many benefits that juices bring; for instance, many are high in fiber.”

Are HPP, coffeefruit here to stay?

In the near term, iTi Tropicals has its sights set on other applications from mature coconuts—like virgin coconut oil, which shows considerable promise as a high-heat, clean label oil. The supplier also continues to monitor exploding juice market trends like coffeefruit and high-pressure processing, albeit with guarded optimism.

“We’re looking into HPP, but not ready to pursue it yet. We want to see how the market flushes out the uncertainties on that. We have to see if it’s really here to stay, and if the claims being made are justified. There have already been several lawsuits, which we don't want any part of.”

Since iTi Tropicals has been in the business of sourcing exotic fruits for F&B applications for 25 years, van Manen said he doesn’t feel the need to jump at every opportunity. “We are not always the first ones to jump on the new products. Acai was perfect example. We were a little late, but we keep looking, searching till we found the right supplier and factory. We don’t have to be first. We want to be the best.”

Related topics: Ingredients