Red Jacket Orchards’ CEO Discusses Participation in VEB’s “Founders Forum”

When we asked about Red Jacket Orchards’ participation in the “Founders’ Forum,” a group of entrepreneurial beverage and food companies brought together by Coca-Cola’s Venturing and Emerging Brands division, President and CEO Brian Nicholson demurred, albeit in jest.

“I deny all participation,” Nicholson joked.

Just minutes before his refutation, Rebecca Messina, the senior VP of marketing for VEB, in a presentation at BevNET Live Summer 2015, identified Red Jacket — among others, including Hint, and Deep River Snacks — as a participant in the Founder’s Forum, which was designed to be a caucus for entrepreneurs to discuss short- and long-term challenges affecting their respective businesses.

While Nicholson may have been unaware that Red Jacket, a New York-based, family-owned fruit orchard, would be revealed as a company taking part in the Founders’ Forum, he nevertheless offered high praise for VEB’s program.

“We always describe ourselves as fruit people first and accidental beverage people,” Nicholson said. “But as our beverage business was growing this was really an opportunity for me personally to feel really in the beverage category. As business owners, the camaraderie there was instantaneous.”

Nicholson, who joined us as part of BevNET Live’s Livestream Lounge, a talk show-style program that ran during the morning breaks and lunch hours of the event, went on to discuss Red Jacket’s evolution as a beverage company, noting its recent launch of a lemonade and guayusa ‘Half & Half’ blend. As it turns out, the genesis of the product spawned from a meeting between Nicholson and Runa co-founder Tyler Gage at — you guessed it — the Founders’ Forum.

In addition to marketing its own line of guayusa-based beverages, Runa, which operates a guayusa processing facility in Ecuador, currently supplies Red Jacket and close to a dozen other beverage brands with the antioxidant rich, naturally caffeinated leaf.

“The story was so parallel between the family farm origin of Red Jacket’s apples and the family farm origin of Runa’s guayusa that it made for a great fit,” Gage later said in a call to BevNET.

Watch the video to hear more from Nicholson about Red Jacket Orchards’ participation in the Founders’ Forum, its new Half & Half beverage, which Nicholson called “the most exciting product that [the company] has created in a decade,” and the company’s position on high pressure processing.