By Shelley Gillespie
In a chance encounter in California with a Brazilian man, Brian Kaplan was inspired when he heard how mixed drinks with coconut water were popular in that country.
That “aha moment” four years ago moved Kaplan to create Coco21, a beverage that he describes as “a cocktail in a bottle.”
As an Arizona resident since he was 2, Kaplan brought his inspiration home to the Airpark area, where he lives and works.
Launched this year, Coco21 — the “21” is to indicate that his 10 % alcoholic drink is meant for the 21-and-older market — have kept Kaplan busy designing and perfecting his signature drinks made with vodka and coconut water. The other ingredients are all natural and gluten free.
Four flavors — original, pineapple, guava and cocorita — are available. “Cocorita,” created to appeal to margarita lovers, uses vodka instead of tequila.
Pineapple currently is the best seller, he says. He’s experimenting with another flavor, secret for now.
“It’s great watching people taste Coco21 for the first time,” Kaplan says.
He mixed various formulas for the drinks, and used friends to test them.
“My wife, Jill, decided to stay married to me,” Kaplan says of taking over the family kitchen as his laboratory.
Every element of the Coco21 creative process was researched and tested. The flavors were chosen because of their popularity in non-alcoholic drinks. The ingredients are all low calorie, created with a small amount of sugar. The vodka, made from potatoes in the U.S., is distilled five times to create a premium taste. The coconut water comes from the Philippines. The pineapple and guava juices are fresh.
“There is nothing else like it,” Kaplan says. “Historically, in premixed cocktails they’ve been high calorie, include artificial ingredients and haven’t tasted as delicious as this.”
Now that his products are ready for market, Kaplan has been calling on businesses that are enthusiastically ordering Coco21.
It now is available poolside at the Scottsdale W Hotel, at Stone and Vine Restaurant near the Airpark, and at retail outlets that include Total Wine, Fry’s Supermarkets, Bashas’, Safeway and Albertsons.
Daily, he is in his car, — his “office,” he jokes — as he calls on businesses. With previous experience developing health products, Kaplan is confidant that Coco21 “fills a need that hasn’t existed before.”
He notes that consumers are looking for healthful products that do not use artificial ingredients and are not syrupy and super sweet.
The special formulas are mixed and bottled in a facility in Missouri, among the few found in the U.S. He tastes each new batch to ensure quality.
“Where some over promise and under deliver, here we under promise and over deliver,” he says.
Kaplan says that Coco21 is catching on and he has a delivery process that allows him to supply his customers quickly. He plans to expand sales to California and Hawaii.
He envisions additions to the line and refinements to the presentation. Soon, each bottle’s seal will be a different color for each flavor. Currently, the 750-milliliter bottles have a beige-brown bamboo-looking sleeve with a lime green seal and cap.
The bottles in retail locations are priced at $12.99.
“You can’t do anything halfway and expect big success,” he says. “If I can’t put everything I have into this, I can’t expect to be as successful as I’d like to be.
“I’m doing something I believe in.”