|Faces of the Middle Market|
While growing up on a farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Rodrigo Veloso noticed that industries commercializing coconut products extracted the meat, the husk and even the shell, but threw away the water. He found this curious, considering how nutritious coconut water is.
His curiosity turned into a passion. The CEO of Los Angeles-based O.N.E. Coconut Water now runs one of the top three coconut water companies in the U.S., alongside Zico Beverages LLC and Vita Coco. The cheery, 32-year-old entrepreneur says he was "motivated to create a global brand."
At the prestigious Fundação Getulio Vargas institute in São Paulo, where he completed an M.B.A., Veloso submitted a business plan to commercialize coconut water and other beverages. It won plaudits. So having raised seed money from family and friends, Veloso sold his apartment and his car and moved to California with, as he recalls, "only my business plan under my arm."
He launched O.N.E., which stands for One Natural Experience, in 2006 with an angel investor, lining up juicy distribution deals with Bristol Farms, a Southern California gourmet grocery chain, and Whole Foods Market Inc. soon after. Veloso and his wife, Emilie, made sales calls during the day and conducted product demonstrations at Whole Foods in the evenings. Within a short period, the company had hooked up with the top natural foods distributors nationwide and had 4,000 points of sale in the U.S. and Canada. It introduced new products, including cashew juice and a coffee fruit drink made from coffee fruit instead of the bean.
In September 2009, Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. teamed with private equity firm Catterton Partners on a distribution deal with O.N.E. in Southern California and South Florida that included minority investments from both. Last year Veloso decided it was time to notch up the growth. In December his investors agreed to inject more capital in return for a majority stake, and "take us to the next level," he says. "The partners at Catterton are entrepreneurs; they have been in our shoes."
Revenue has since tripled. Proof, says Veloso, that coconut water is not a fad -- or a waste.