What’s Behind the Green Juice Fad? Carrying a bottle of vegetable juice has become a status symbol

What’s Behind the Green Juice Fad?

Carrying a bottle of vegetable juice has become a status symbol

Suja’s Annie Lawless, co-founder, and Jeff Church, CEO, at the cold-pressed juice company’s San Diego operation Sandy Huffaker for The Wall Street Journal

KATHERINE ROSMAN

Nov. 11, 2013 7:23 p.m. ET

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The price of vegetable, fruit and superfood juice is beginning to approach that of expensive liquor. Katie Rosman joins Lunch Break with a look at the growing market for premium juice, and whether the health claims hold up. Photo: BluePrint.

How much will consumers pay for healthy-in-a-bottle? As much as $10 and sometimes more. At least that’s the belief of high-end grocers likeWhole Foods Market WFM -1.28% and a spurt of small juice companies trying to move the cold-pressed-juice craze from small-batch to mass-produced. A 16-ounce bottle of BluePrint Red, containing beets, carrots and ginger, among other ingredients, goes for $10 at some retailers. And Whole Foods customers are paying $9 for a bottle of celery-based Twelve Essentials vegetable juice, one of the top-sellers from Suja, an 18-month-old juice brand based in San Diego. Suja co-founder Annie Lawless says customers understand the high cost of what goes into the bottle, including organic produce that is cold pressed and then preserved using a process that leaves most of the nutrients intact. “When you buy a bottle, you’re getting all the goodness without any of the effort,” says Ms. Lawless, a 26-year-old former law student and yoga instructor. The company says it generated $20 million in revenue in its first year.Just as carrying a Starbucks SBUX -0.26% coffee cup has become a celebrity fashion accessory and a slung-over-the-shoulder yoga mat can signify a certain devotion to spiritual fitness, porting a clear bottle of green vegetable juice has evolved into a status symbol. Initially, the juicing market was supported mostly by people doing liquid-only cleanses, marketed as a way to rid the body of toxins and bloat. Now, more consumers are drinking juice as a meal replacement, a quick infusion of vegetables or to convey the impression of superior health and discipline.

Suja’s product line is a slate of fruit-and-vegetable juices meant to dose the body with a palatable concentration of nutrients from organic produce. For people doing a liquid-only cleanse, Suja sells packages on its website. A three-day supply costs $225, including shipping on ice outside of California. It has flavors such as Glow, which contains apples, cucumbers, mint, kale and other ingredients, and Green Supreme, with apples, kale and lemon.

Health experts say the vegetable drinks have many beneficial nutrients, although some ingredients, like apples and carrots, can add a lot of sugar. Consumers should be careful to get enough fiber in their diets, since the process of cold-pressed juicing extracts the juice from the fiber-rich leaves and stems. Good sources of fiber can include whole grains and nuts, which aid digestive health.

A simpler route to a well-rounded diet might be to eat the vegetables themselves, rather than as juice, suggests Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “It’s a lot of money, why not have a salad?”

Juice companies say the high cost of the organic produce, and the expense of processing, prevent them from selling their product for less. Consumers making their own juice at home with similar ingredients would pay about the same or more, not counting the cost of equipment, they say. “We wish we could bring the cost down,” says Zoë Sakoutis, co-founder of BluePrint.

Sarah Andersen, 31, drinks about five bottles of Suja juice a week and says it leaves her feeling healthy and confident. A health-and-wellness trainer for teenage girls in Madison, N.J., Ms. Andersen says she used to make her own juice. But the time, effort and mess became onerous. Now she buys Suja, even if it means cutting back elsewhere. “I know it’s expensive but I would rather have a juice than get my nails done.”

Industry experts say overall sales of cold-pressed juice aren’t tracked separately. But the segment is a bright spot in an otherwise stagnant juice market, they say. National retailers like Whole Foods are devoting increased shelf space to the products, more companies are launching, and acquisitions and expansion in the industry have been robust, says Jonas Feliciano, a beverages analyst for Euromonitor International, a market-research company. “Americans are drinking less juice,” he says. “So what manufacturers are going for is attracting the health-conscious consumer who will pay higher costs for smaller volumes.”

Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods, says the company was skeptical at first that consumers would be willing to pay such high prices for juice. But, he says, “I have been surprised by the cleansing products and what people are willing to spend.”

Still, Whole Foods is hedging its bets. Mr. Schweizer says he called on Suja to work with Whole Foods’ product team to create a secondary line of less expensive juices and smoothies. The line, called Suja Elements, was launched in Whole Foods stores around the country this fall and retails for $5. The bottles are smaller—12 ounces versus the usual 16 ounces—and the recipes tend to use lower-cost ingredients like apples and carrots.

BluePrint was founded six years ago to sell a six-bottle-a-day-cleanse product that costs $75 a day. It includes a lemon, cayenne and agave concoction meant to “hydrate, refresh, curb that 4 p.m. snack craving and stay focused,” the company website says. BluePrint now also sells individual bottles of juice at high-end grocers around the country. Another cleanse product: BluePrintBride, for women wanting to lose weight and detoxify before their wedding, starts at $350. BluePrint, which was acquired last year by Hain Celestial Group Inc., in Melville, N.Y., says it had $20 million in sales last year.

Another cold-pressed juice company, Evolution Fresh, was purchased by Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee Co. two years ago for $30 million. The company recently invested $70 million to open a factory in Southern California to produce 140,000 gallons of juice a week, says Chris Bruzzo, general manager of Evolution Fresh. Mr. Bruzzo says the juices are now carried in 5,000 Starbucks locations and 3,000 grocery outlets. The best sellers are two varieties of green juice, he says.

Getting pricey cold-pressed juice on the shelves of national supermarkets and specialty stores has been a challenge. Stores like Whole Foods typically require a shelf-life of about 30 days for packaged juices. But traditional methods of preserving foods use heat, which destroys some nutrients. Cold-pressed juice companies didn’t want that.

To extend shelf life, some companies, including Suja, BluePrint and Evolution Fresh, have turned to a process often called high-pressure processing (HPP), which inactivates most microorganisms while retaining natural freshness. HPP, also used to preserve guacamole and ready-to-eat meats, subjects the food to intense pressure of thousands of pounds a square inch.

High-pressure processing, however, is the subject of a lawsuit filed against Hain Celestial in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York last month. The suit says that HPP destroys some probiotics and enzymes and that BluePrint labels falsely advertise its products as “raw.” A BluePrint spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit.

Ms. Lawless, the Suja co-founder, has long made juice at home because she has celiac disease. She and a partner, Eric Ethans, in 2011 began selling juice to her yoga students who would ask about her juicing.

The small operation attracted two investors, including Jeff Church, 52, a bottled-water entrepreneur. He approached Whole Foods, which began offering Suja products in its stores in fall of 2012. Suja—a word the company founders made up that signifies to them “long and beautiful life,” a spokeswoman says—now produces on average 10,000 bottles a week of each of its 19 flavors at its Southern California plant. It acquired an organic-produce distributor to ease supply issues. And it plans to open a plant in the Philadelphia area next year to have quicker access to more markets. “It’s about getting the kale picked and on the shelf at Whole Foods as fast as we possibly can,” says Mr. Church, Suja’s chief executive.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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