Smile for the extra mile: Smile Organics targets global expansion with coconut water sports nutrition gel

By Nurul Ain Razali

- Last updated on GMT

Thai outfit's POWCO formulation is targeted at trail hikers and marathon runners. © Smile Organics
Thai outfit's POWCO formulation is targeted at trail hikers and marathon runners. © Smile Organics

Related tags electrolyte gel Sports nutrition Coconut water Thailand

Thai-based firm Smile Organics aims to conquer the US and the Middle East markets with its sports nutrition gel POWCO made of Thai-bred young coconut water.

Armed with investor funding worth 2 million THB (USD$58,000) and a concept based on research with over 500 human subjects under Mahidol University, the firm intends to enter the US by Q4 2022 or Q1 2023.

It has already started testing the Middle East market by shipping one cubic tonne, or 500 boxes, to Bahrain. After the US and Middle Eastern markets, CEO Thanada Thomas will be setting her sights on Europe from 2023 onwards.

For APAC, Singapore has also received a shipment of 10 boxes. However, she would like first to analyse the Chinese, South Korean and Japanese markets, especially in South Korea, where she hopes to develop something unique for consumers.

“The US is a country that consumes a lot of energy gels. We are trying to export our products there. For the Middle East, I hope there is a growth potential for the company. With these, we hope to enter the Thai stock exchange in four years and generate a USD$3m revenue from the US market by 2025, USD$1m from APAC, and USD$1m from the Middle East,”​ said Thomas.

The best harvest

The aromatic Thai coconut water is highly sought after due to its flavour and nutritional value.

The nutritive value is captured using a special GAP-certified process. The farmers cut the middle of the coconut, contain the fluids and send it to the plant within 10 minutes to be frozen at -18 degrees Celsius to maintain the nutritional qualities, explained Thomas.

The coconut itself has its government stamp of guarantee named the “Thai Geographical Indication” (TGI). With this guarantee, customers worldwide are assured of the place of origin, quality of the soil the tree grew in, and the coconut water retrieved.

Smile Organics receives its coconut water supply from TGI horticultural lands in central Thailand, namely the three provinces of Ratchaburi (west of capital Bangkok), Samut Sakorn and Samutsongkhram.

Central Thailand is perfect for growing coconuts due to its suitable weather and soil conditions. The region is also where rivers like the Mae Klong and Tha Chin meet the Gulf of Thailand.

“There is a difference in taste and nutrition due to the soil nutrients, which affects the coconut trees and therefore, the coconut water’s taste. Thailand has an abundance of coconut water, and various research has shown its benefits. It’s delicious and can replace glucose and electrolytes quickly for athletes,” ​she said.

Initially, Thomas conducted research that involved over 500 runner subjects when she was taking her master’s in food business management with Mahidol University in 2019.

The background revealed that there were 15m runners in Thailand who were actively participating in marathons. Data then showed that the runners frequently encountered three issues – serious thirstiness (due to conventional gels being sticky and sweet), require rapid and short action (must consume energy gels every hour to maintain blood sugar) and digestive problems (gut disturbance due to synthetic ingredients).

Based on the concept from her thesis and additional research afterwards by experts, Smile Organics, established in 2016, launched two gel formulations suitable for pre- and post-workout around July 2021.

The first formulation is the POWCO energy gel Formula 1 (POWCO F1), made of 89% young coconut water, maltodextrin, Konjac gum​, sugar, fructose syrup, carrageenan and coconut flavour. One sachet of 100 millilitres contains 70 kcal and 310mg of potassium.

One box contains four sachets and retails at USD$12. The coconut water for POWCO F1 comes from Ratchaburi.

The second formulation is the POWCO Formula-2, made of 93.4% coconut water and has a lower potassium content of 250mg. The coconut water hails from the region of Samut Sakorn.

Each 100ml sachet contains 50 kcal and also retails at USD$12 per box of four.

All sachets are made with food-grade aluminium retort pouches and sealed using retort technology. The firm does not utilise preservation methods like an acidic adjustment or synthetic preservatives common in sports nutrition gels. With this technology, the shelf life has increased to one year in ambient temperatures, but consumers can refrigerate it for better consumption.

“We have been in the market for nine months. Our revenue is increasing after distributing 1,000 sachets as testers. We are not spending on advertisements, but we utilise value content marketing and blog about running and cycling techniques.

“We hope to transform the food industry from 2022 to 2024 and even create a POWCO metaverse industry with a tokenisation system of POWCO coins and memberships,”​ she said.

Consumers can purchase the gels through POWCO’s e-commerce site and dealers.

The best never rest

Currently, the firm is conducting research for its third formulation, which is a combination of the first two formulations and is expected to wrap up by mid-2022.

The industry can also expect a variety of offerings from Smile Organics, such as plant-based protein snacks and bars, CBD and hemp products, sunscreen in 2023 and the launch of five to 10 vending machines in Bangkok by 2024.

“I hope the products will be well-known globally, and we will eventually have our lab for research in using natural Thai herbs and ingredients. We also aim to build a physical fitness metaverse, combining food and the digital space, and provide for many consumers globally,”​ said Thomas.

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