One of the cruelest jokes nature has played on Los Angeles is that the city’s palm trees don’t produce coconuts. If they did, the newest frontier in the coconut water arms race might not have been such a long time coming.

“Millennials want an experiential product, they want something healthy, and they want their money to go to something good,” said Vincent Zaldivar, aka Coco Vinny. “If you drink right from the coconut, you know where it’s coming from.”

Coco Vinny is putting his mouth where his money is. He started selling whole “tapped” coconuts — precut with a “Coco Tap” screwed into the opening — in L.A. in February 2016. He said he made about $250,000 that first year, translating into about 50,000 coconuts sold. On Friday, en route to delivering 2,500 tapped coconuts to Coachella for client Ciroc Vodka, he said demand is still growing, even after he recently pulled his coconuts from Whole Foods Markets. In fact, he noted, he had a record week — “$20 grand!”

Globally, the market for “alternative water beverages,” i.e., coconut and maple water, grew 21 percent in 2016 to $2.7 billion, according to a report by market research firm Zenith Global. That number is expected to double by 2020, with the bulk of it (96 percent by volume in 2016) being coconut water. But with major corporations including Coca-Cola (Zico and Innocent), PepsiCo (One, Kero Coco and Naked) and All Market (Vita Coco) dominating the drink market, entrepreneurs like Coco Vinny and former Shark Tank contestant David Goodman (Coco Jack) are also selling tools to open the fruit at home.

For the uninitiated, the desirable coconuts sold in L.A. are the young, green fruits from Thailand. U.S. regulations don’t allow the fruit to enter the country with the green outer husk intact. That’s why those appearing at farmers markets, specialty grocery stores, restaurants and Coachella tents are shaved down to a “diamond-cut” white husk. In the last couple of years, green Mexican coconuts have started to trickle in, but the market remains dominated by Thai product.

“The best ones are from Thailand. The soil, how they treat it — there’s lots of reasons why the Thai ones are the best,” said importer Norman Phan of Panda Produce. The downtown business has been importing the young coconuts by the container for the last four years. “Now a lot of people — non-Asian — who are into health cleansing, they come here and buy by the whole case,” Phan said.

Currently, a case of nine coconuts sells for $13, or $1.44 each, versus the $4 or $5 each they sell for in stores. Coco Vinny’s tapped fruit is sold at the Universal lot for $7 each.

Asked about the popularity of the new gadgets, Phan was nonchalant, saying, “I don’t know about that. I do it the old-fashioned way: You get a big giant knife and just smack it.”

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