He endured a massive crop failure, redesigned the entire line, and in the end, felt he’d had a good four years, but Brian Ross has left Cheribundi, a company he both invested in and led as CEO.
The departure was amicable, according to Ross, who said he spent the last four weeks training Steve Pear, the president and general manager of Coca-Cola-owned Odwalla, to take on his new role at the sour cherry juice company. Ross remains an investor in Cheribundi, and said he helped interview his successor.
Meanwhile, Ross is moving on to Made in Nature, a Boulder, Colo.-based maker of fresh and dried organic fruits and vegetables. Ross will fill the newly-created role of Chief Innovation Officer at Made in Nature, one of the oldest organic, non-GMO food companies in the U.S. He will be working on now product and channel development, trying to get the fast-growing company into mainstream accounts like Target, Wal-Mart, and mainstream grocery accounts.
“There’s not really a brand that’s all-organic that plays in all these channels,” he said. “And it’s profitable, which is fantastic.”
Ross, a natural products veteran who co-founded Oregon Chai and worked at Izze and cleaning products company Twist, took Cheribundi from a tiny distribution radius into a product line distributed in thousands of stores, from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart. Along the way, the brand added investment from family office Emil Capital and tried to foment a tart cherry revolution among athletes and young consumers.
But Ross’ run at Cheribundi was affected deeply by a freakishly bad sour cherry harvest in 2012, which left the company scrambling to pivot from purely functional cherry juices to a series of refresher and tea lines that use smaller percentages of cherries. The brand’s margins were deeply hit and it wasn’t able to run promotions for the year, cutting into its revenue as well. Since then, it has managed to get into new accounts but has still not caught fire behind the health benefits of sour cherries, which can be a potent anti-inflammatory.
“It’s a great brand with a lot of upside potential,” Ross said of Cheribundi. “I’m looking forward to watching it continue to grow.”