Last month, Danone Manifesto Ventures (DMV) announced it had acquired a majority stake in Harmless Harvest — a leader in organic coconut-based products including coconut water and dairy-free coconut yogurt alternatives.
The move came just four years after the corporate venture arm of Danone led a $30 million capital growth round in the startup, alongside Mousse Partners and other investors.
According to DMV, the decision was based on its goal to increase its plant-based sales worldwide to €5 billion by 2025.
“It has been a privilege to be part of the Harmless Harvest success story over the past few years, as the company has continued to grow, innovate, and pioneer more responsible business practices,” said Laurent Marcel, CEO of Danone Manifesto Ventures at the time of the transaction.
Adding: “We are thrilled to further the partnership with a group of people who aim to be harmless to the planet and society and share our vision of a healthy and sustainable food system. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Ben and his talented leadership team, and supporting their inspiring ambitions.”
But with the coconut water industry now a $4 billion global market with no shortage of buzzy competitors, why Harmless Harvest?
Founded in 2009 by Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud, Harmless Harvest has scaled to become a leader in the fast-growing premium coconut water category in the US, mainly as a result of its focus on crafting superior, organic products ethically and sustainably.
When launched in 2011, there was little international demand for organic young Nam Hom coconuts in Thailand. The brand claims to have essentially created the organic coconut water market by launching its iconic coconut water that changed an industry.
In addition to its Thai coconuts, which come exclusively from organic certified farms, meaning it’s able to verify they are grown without the use of persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, for the communities where it farms and bottles its products, the business also gives back — an approach that not only taps into the clean and conscious values of today’s consumers but one that also attracted Danone.
“We invested in Harmless Harvest because we believed it had the two key features of long-term brand success: a delicious, organic product, and a thoughtful supply chain that takes care of people and the environment,” Laurent Marcel, CEO of Danone Manifesto Ventures recently told Forbes.
“As the company keeps expanding, we think the latter, which is what makes it ‘harmless,’ is even more relevant for consumers who increasingly expect brands to be caring and transparent,” he added.
In fact, following Danone’s initial investment in the brand in 2018, they worked together to launch the Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP), which seeks to develop and implement a regenerative agriculture model for coconuts in Thailand.
With demand for coconuts now surging, many farmers have turned to chemical-laden monoculture crop farming. In addition, Thailand has been particularly hit hard by climate change, which is impacting crop production. ReCAP aims to combat these negative effects.
Today, Harmless Harvest is committed to sourcing 50% of its coconuts from certified regenerative organic certified farmland by 2023 — to do so it will invest in restoring soil health and diversifying income for its farm partners.
“Harmless Harvest’s mission is to create remarkable coconut products through sustainable farming practices while having a positive community impact,” explained Ben Mand, CEO, Harmless Harvest.
“We are committed to making ReCAP a successful program for not only the coconut industry but more importantly, for the people and the planet. Most coconut farmers rely on coconuts as their single source of revenue. Relying on a single source of income with significant fluctuations in market conditions and deteriorating climate conditions make this a real challenge for families. Investing in regenerative organic is an investment in their financial resiliency and our planet’s future.”
DMV sees itself as playing a critical role in this evolution, and has started adopting a similar stance across other brands in its portfolio to better cater to consumers who expect businesses to demonstrate a commitment to tackling wider issues.
Backed by DMV’s latest investment, Harmless Harvest will be able to expand on its sustainability initiatives further still, while Danone continues to reposition itself as a force for good in consumers’ minds –– a win for both businesses.
“This is an exciting next step for Harmless Harvest — a testament to the entire team’s hard work and commitment to our mission in the US and Thailand,” said Harmless Harvest Co-Founders and Chairpersons Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud.
“It opens the door to an amplified and expanded collaboration between two like-minded groups of people willing to promote and deliver on the principles of constructive capitalism that define the company,” they added.