Exclusive: Top coconut water maker Vita Coco exploring sale - sources

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vita Coco, the world’s leading brand of coconut water, is exploring a sale of the company that could value it at up to $1 billion, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Vita Coco’s parent company -- whose investors include celebrities Madonna and Matthew McConaughey -- has hired JP Morgan to advise it on a sale, three sources said. They declined to be identified as the matter is private.

Any sale of U.S.-based Vita Coco would come as traditional fizzy drink sales continue to slow and consumers increasingly turn to healthier drinks like coconut water.

The business could attract interest from beverage companies such as PepsiCo PEP.N, Coca-Cola KO.N or Dr Pepper Snapple DPS.N, which late last year paid $1.7 billion for anti-oxident drink maker Bai Brands. PepsiCo and Coke are already the No. 2 and 3 producers of coconut water.

Founded in 2004 by two childhood friends in New York, Vita Coco now has sales in 30 countries and is the global leader in coconut water, with 26 percent of a market worth $2.5 billion, according to data tracker Euromonitor International.

Extracted from young, green coconuts, coconut water now enjoys prime placement in coolers across North America and Europe and was the world’s fastest-growing cold drink last year, according to Euromonitor, with sales up 19 percent.

“The surging demand for packaged, convenient and enhanced water products is the new engine for the beverages industry,” said Euromonitor analyst Howard Telford. “Energy drinks, ready-to-drink brewed beverages and super-premium juices – most notably, coconut water – were all top global performers.”

Vita Coco and JP Morgan declined to comment on a possible sale.

Private investment company Verlinvest, which owns a significant stake in the company, was not immediately available for comment.

Verlinvest, the family office of one of the Belgian families related to Anheuser Busch InBev ABI.BR, took a stake in Vita Coco in 2007.

In 2014, Vita Coco sold a 25 percent stake to the owner of Red Bull China in a deal that brought the drink to the world’s most populous country, and valued its parent company, All Market, at $665 million.

Verlinvest, founded in 1995, manages assets worth more than 1.4 billion euros, in sectors including food and beverages, e-commerce and retail. Its current food and drink investments include Popchips snacks, Le Blon cachaca and Swedish oat drink Oatly. It was an early investor in vitamin water maker Glaceau, which Coca-Cola acquired for $4.1 billion in 2007.

Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Susan Fenton