Chennai: At last the real coco cola has silently started occupying the refrigerators of several retail chains like FoodWorld and Nilgiris in Chennai.
Thanks to the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) and the Coconut Development Board (CDB), Kochi, packed tender coconut water with a shelf life of nine-12 months is now available in 200ml pouches. This is one example of how the benefit of defence research is made available for civil purposes.
And the competition is hotting up with these organisations licensing the technology to entrepreneurs for Rs 3 lakh-shared equally between DFRL and CDB.
According to CDB's estimates, a 2,500-litre per day (lpd) coco cola project processing around 10,000 tender nuts per day would require 1 hectare land, 10,000 sq ft building, plant and machinery (Rs 40 lakh) and Rs 18.5 lakh towards working capital, preliminary expenses and contingencies. The projected sales are around Rs 1.8 crore with the payback period being four years and an internal rate of return being 18 per cent. The project has the potential to provide employment to 30 persons.
The Pollachi- (Tamil Nadu) based Sakthi Coir Exports manufacturing 'Tender co co' brand and the Karnataka-based Jain Agro Foods with its 'Cocojal' are the two companies that have started operations and are expanding their market presence now. They have started targeting major retail chains to get good volumes in the initial stages before casting their net wide to catch small shops.
Says N K Menon, regional manager (sales and marketing), Sakthi Coir: ''The market response is very encouraging with repeat orders from retail chains coming in fast.''
Pricing their 200ml pouches Rs 12, both the companies have taken a leaf out of the two cola major's strategies. After the pouches, Sakthi Coir and Jain Agro plan to launch their coco colas in cans. The 250ml cans would not cost less than Rs 25.
In addition Jain Agro is also planning to launch a 1.2-litre family pack pouch. ''The family pouch will happen in April,'' says S Sathiyamurthy, VSM marketing Services, Jain Agro's Chennai super stockist.
''We pack 25,000 pouches daily and have the capacity to double that,'' says C M Kamaraj, managing director, Sakthi Coir. ''The imported pouch alone costs Rs 3. After taking into account the nut and processing charges, our total is Rs 9 per pouch. The maximum retail price includes the commission to the distribution channel.''
As the average water content in a Pollachi nut is around 300 ml, Sakthi Coir is able to manage at the current volumes. ''Once the Northern market picks up, we will be able to make money,'' hopes Kamaraj. Already Sakthi Coir has started sending lorry loads to Delhi.
Tender coconut water mixed hard drinks
However the two companies differ on their promotional campaign. While Jain Agro strictly sticks to the nutritional and medicinal properties of tender coconut water, Sakthi Coir's nutty claim raises many an eyebrow.
According to its product brochure, one can avoid the harmful effects of alcohol by mixing it with Tender co co. Perhaps the company wants to storm the Tamil Nadu liquor shops with its chilled coco cola apart from the retail chains.
Menon says taste uniformity - a prerequisite in a branded drink - is ensured by testing samples after every 20 litres that get processed. Both the companies consciously avoid sourcing tender nuts from farms situated near the coast fearing salty water in the nuts.
On the preservatives side, Jain Agro simply claims that it uses only natural bio preservatives to give a shelf life of nine months while Sakthi Coir claims that it uses class-II organic preservatives for a shelf life of 12 months from the date of packing.
In the meantime, in Chennai two women entrepreneurs, Padma Sridhar and Shanti Varadarajan of Farm Fresh Foods and Beverages, have started selling dressed, shapely-cut and chilled tender coconuts.
The green nuts are machine shaved to an attractive and uniform hexagonal shape, the smallest size possible that can retain the fluid safely inside. The nuts labelled as kokonut juice are chilled in a refrigerator before sending them out in tricycles with big-chiller boxes that can hold around 80 nuts.
For a price of Rs 10 the advantage for the consumer is that Farm Fresh has no say in the water quantity, as it is the nature that seals the nut. However, several attempts to contact them resulted in vain. The one-side effect of this new industry is the increasing prices of mature nuts, copra and coconut oil.
Meanwhile, finding that Indians do not quench their thirst with carbonated or bottled water despite heavy promotions, Hindustan Coca Cola Holdings has announced its plans to get into the tender coconut segment. Certainly the Indian subsidiary of the much-famed American company has come a long way from selling colas to artificially flavoured fruit drinks to tender coconut water, or shall we say coco cola.
But is tender coconut water the core competence of the multinational? The managers at the MNC will first need a glass of tender coconut water possessing digestive properties to digest that question before trying to answer the same.