Ever the high pressure innovator, FreshBev believes its future is in the bag.
FreshBev, the maker of Ripe cold-pressed, high pressure processed (HPP) juices and cocktail mixers, is expanding distribution of its patent-pending 5-gallon bag-in-box, also known as “BIBs,” at Whole Foods’ in-store juice bars and other foodservice operators. FreshBev co-founder and CEO Michel Boissy views the package, which comes in nine core juice varieties and can be dispensed and blended with minimal effort, as technological innovation that “shatters labor costs.”
It took “a year of research and a lot of cash” to develop a BIB that could withstand the 87,000 pounds per square inch of compression from HPP, Boissy said. To do so, the New Haven, Conn.-based company took a standard bag-in-box used for soda syrups and redesigned the fitting. The package is loaded into a small refrigerator and dispensed using proprietary diaphragm pumps that FreshBev developed. Boissy said that even when dispensed, blended and bottled, the juices, which include kale, apple, and grapefruit varieties, maintain the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties from HPP, along with a shelf life of one-and-a-half to two weeks.
The BIB will be used for all of FreshBev’s foodservice business, which includes a handful of small restaurant chains and sports venues, including Oracle Arena, home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
FreshBev also sees high growth potential for bag packaging outside of foodservice. “Bag technology or pouch technology is really where the future’s going to be” for multi-serve offerings of Ripe Bar Juice cocktail mixers and Ripe Craft Juice, a line of cranberry- and grapefruit-centric juices produced in partnership with Ocean Spray, Boissy said.
Bags have a form advantage over bottles when it comes to HPP, according to Boissy.
“It’s quite prohibitive to take a lot of the larger formats, 59 oz., 46 oz. version PETs, and put them through HPP because it’s a batch process,” he said. “It’s a cylinder; you can only fit so many bottles in there at once. Whereas if you’re taking a bag, a 46 oz. bag or a 50 oz. bag that [is] quite rigid but still flexible, you can get 30 to 40 percent more units in that HPP machine per cycle, so the processing cost comes down significantly.”
Reduced processing costs mean that more dollars can be allocated to marketing and branding, Boissy said. It also means that the company will be able to pass on significant savings to consumers.
“Take 100 percent apple, or fresh cranberry, fresh orange juice, fresh grapefruit, putting them in a 46 oz. bag, we can put it out for $7.99, $6.99 because of the cost savings on HPP,” he said. “If you’re saving that much money on a processing format, we’re really going to be able to give the consumer a… really good, unadulterated, 100 percent traceable product at a great value.”
Moreover, Boissy believes that bags will usher in a game-changing look for the dairy and grocery aisle, akin to the introduction of pouch packaging for baby food. Consumers have “a long way to go with understanding HPP,” he said, so the visually disruptive bag package — retail versions will be transparent with labels printed directly on plastic — has the potential to create greater interest and sampling opportunities for products.
In conjunction with the launch of its multiserve bag package, FreshBev is planning to introduce a major redesign for Ripe Bar Juice and Ripe Craft Juice. Scheduled to debut on April 1, Boissy described the revamp as a “complete brand overhaul,” that will emerge as the company continues to expand distribution of its Ripe Craft juices. They are currently sold at Whole Foods and HEB stores, as well as a handful of small grocery chains.
Boissy said that FreshBev will continue to market a 1L bottle for Ripe Bar Juice for the time being, but that a bag package for that size is also in the works. Amid greater focus on its Ripe brands, he said that FreshBev has ended production of Project Fresh, the company’s line of organic, cold-pressed juices that were blended with “micro-milled” fruits and vegetables.
The discontinuation of Project Fresh also opened manufacturing capacity for FreshBev, which it has since filled with a private-label line of juices made exclusively for Whole Foods Market. Labeled simply as “Fresh Juice,” the cold-pressed, HPP products are sold in the retailer’s North Atlantic region.
At a glance, the beverages, which come in 16 oz. transparent plastic bottles with a generic-looking checklist of ingredients, appear to be store brand offerings that were blended and packaged on-premise. However, a note on the back label reveals that the juices were produced exclusively for Whole Foods by FreshBev.
The partnership has since reduced on-premise juice production at Whole Foods stores in the region (which includes most of New England), and Fresh Juice is now making its way to the retailer’s Northeast region (New York, New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut).
Discussing the development of Fresh Juice, Boissy said that Whole Foods was familiar with the company’s expertise in cold-pressing, HPP technology and co-packing (FreshBev does contract production for a number of other HPP beverage brands, including Temple Turmeric, Honeydrop, Juisi, Tio Gazpacho and Jade Monk). Handing over production of its private label juices to FreshBev meant that Whole Foods could reduce labor costs and provide its customers with more consistent formulations and superior shelf life.
“By leveraging HPP technology and for us to be able to pack a really great super-premium juice… saves a lot in many different ways, from labor costs to food safety,” Boissy said. “As you walk into Whole Foods, you’ll notice a lot of times region to region all those juices vary. They’re all made there every morning. [Whole Foods] realizes that, and for us to really turnkey that for them and streamline everything was quite big.”
FreshBev is eyeing placement of the Fresh Juice line in Whole Foods stores throughout the eastern half of the U.S., Boissy said.
In support of growth plans for 2016, FreshBev is finalizing a $5 million round of funding. The investment will go primarily toward sales and marketing efforts in “a very aggressive 10-12 month runway” for the company, Boissy said. FreshBev is also working on plans for an additional financing round,aiming to close in the third or fourth quarter this year.
“Innovating as aggressively as we are, we have so many things going on,” Boissy said. “And it requires a lot of capital to get that going. This is the first time that we’re plugging in a decent amount of capital in sales and marketing, and we’re excited about it because we’ve proven ourselves when we get [Ripe] in retailers and support it the right way. We just need to do that better, and you’re going to see that this year.”