Cleansing the Juice Category: Blueprint Juice

By Ray Latif

Overindulgence. It’s an issue that has plagued man since the beginning of time; after all, what urbanite doesn’t enjoy heathen-like amounts of food and booze on occasion?

It’s for those sybarites that a burgeoning beverage category of juice cleanses sprang up, designed to allow the body an opportunity to detoxify itself and create control over its Dionysian urges.

One of the most popular of those cleanses is BluePrint, a New York-based direct-to-consumer company that, since 2007, has produced a $65-or-so daily regimen of blended organic juices designed to counteract the effects of such binges. Packaged and labeled with a minimalist approach, with unpasteurized, fresh-squeezed juices crammed attractively into clearly numbered plastic bottles, a list of ingredients neatly printed on the front of each one, BluePrint Cleanse has become the leader of a growing movement to supply the cleanse-oriented with their juices at specified pickup points or deliveries, even via Federal Express.

Now, that model has changed. Earlier this year, BluePrint launched BluePrint Juices, a five-SKU line of individual bottles modeled on the cleanse line that are distributed and sold a range of natural and upscale retail outlets. There’s a big difference, however, in that the juices have received High-Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) – allowing them to survive on the shelf for several weeks; the Cleanse line has also moved to the HPP model as well. While the Cleanse line remains the bulk (if such a term can be applied to an all-juice diet) of the business, investors and retailers are all trying to figure out how to get a piece of the business as it expands into a broader retail footprint.

While BluePrint has partnered with a number of small chains and boutique grocers including Fresh Direct and Dean & Deluca, the majority of retailers carrying BluePrint Juices are Whole Foods stores.

According to one source, BluePrint’s businesses have a combined $20-25 million run rate, but the majority of its sales are still coming from its direct-to-consumer cleanse program.  And while BluePrint ’s retail business may have a far greater upside, it’s still a babe in the woods, with limited distribution in 210 stores along the East Coast, California, and parts of the Southwest.

As it adapts to the high costs of distribution and processing of its juices BluePrint has become a brand to watch, one of a new wave of bottled super-premium juice products that, because of their use of HPP and Direct-to-Consumer methods, comprise a “bleeding edge” of consumer trade- up to better-for-you products and ingredients, along with other HPP brands Evolution Fresh and Harmless Harvest.

Yet while HPP may be a highly effective way to maintain a very high level of quality, it certainly comes at a steep cost for BluePrint. Because of the high level of technical expertise and equipment needed for HPP, BluePrint outsources the processing, partnering with HPP companies on both coasts. And the relatively new technology means that there are very few facilities available to fuel expansion.

“It’s expensive, but it’s worth every cent,” said Erica Huss, one of BluePrint’s co-founders. “It’s something that’s just a given now. Once we started using HPP, we didn’t adjust or increase our [prices]; we just absorbed the cost. It’s something we’re going to continue to do. We’ve done our research, and if something else suddenly pops up, we’ll definitely explore other options, but I think that HPP is by far the best option out there.”

Beyond the high cost of HPP is the high cost associated with educating consumers about the brand. Huss said that a significant number of BluePrint employees are part of its brand education team, which organizes approximately 220 sampling events every month. Huss said that it is a “painstaking process” to train employees on how to effectively manage consumer presentations, but she stressed that the company is focused on supporting current BluePrint retailers with consistent demos and quality education as opposed to rapidfire growth.

“Our biggest challenge so far is pacing ourselves,” Huss said. “We have retailers banging down our door and trying to get us in their region yesterday, and our biggest challenge is communicating to them that… we need to manage this growth and make sure that we’re fully supporting each region as we roll out with demo and education.”

The company has begun to receive offers from potential investors who are offering to help finance its growth, and it has retained the investment bank Partnership Capital Growth (PCG) to assist in the process of vetting those investments.  Huss notes that the company is seeking a value-added investment partner that would be able to support the brand’s complex manufacturing model and its costly consumer education platform.

But it’s that consumer education element that is attached to the main potential stumbling block for BluePrint, which is the question of what it ultimately should be: a cleanse brand or a juice. Some industry experts don’t believe BluePrint’s current cleanse-focused business model will find mainstream acceptance; meanwhile, in the mainstream, the most obstinate concern is Blueprint’s high price point and how it may impede the company’s ability to find shelf space in grocery and hybrid retail channels.

It’s an interesting conundrum because, although BluePrint considers itself to be a vastly different product than most super-premium juices, in Whole Foods, the company finds itself positioned alongside brands like Odwalla and Naked – which easily come in cheaper than its $6 to $11 per bottle pricing – as well as fellow HPP-brand Evolution, which has more of a pure juice orientation and a powerful new owner in Starbucks.

Huss brushed off concerns about competition, noting that “we consider ourselves to be a completely different product” than larger super-premium juice brands, and instead referred to other juice cleanse brands like Organic Avenue and Cooler Cleanse as being a bigger threat to BluePrint ’s business.

“Evolution is not a direct ‘apples to apples’ [comparison],” Huss said. “There is some crossover there, and I guess you would consider them the competition at the moment. However, very soon, I think that competing cleanse companies will make their way to wholesale channels.”

What’s driving that confidence? According to Huss, it’s the retailers themselves who are asking for cleanse products, and not juices.

“We started this because Whole Foods approached us and said, ‘Please, can we get the juice in our stores?’ Huss said. “And we’ve maintained that relationship so far.”