Keeping Up With the Juiceros

If there’s one company that couldn’t be happier about Juicero’s recent troubles, it’s PepsiCo. The month began with the PepsiCo’s disastrous Kendall Jenner ad, which offended everyone for appropriating social movements in a highly inappropriate manner. It ended, however, with a slow drip of embarrassment for the company behind Doug Evans’ megajuicer, which offended everyone for its investors’ dogged attempts to burn money on a product whose high price was driven by an even higher level of over-engineering.
Well, these things happen. And PepsiCo should know. Few brands are known to be as adept for stepping into a controversy, wiping it off its corporate shoe and moving on as the Blue system– and that includes the New Coke disaster.
After all, it’s Pepsi that has been associated with everything from Michael Jackson’s hair bursting into flames to an angry Felicia the Goat threatening a witness in a Mountain Dew commercial. So the company knew enough to reverse course on a Tropicana redesign nearly as quickly as it did on Jenner’s advocacy for better police hydration.
For Juicero, however, the problem isn’t only the bad press, but that it came as the result of a story questioning the entire premise of the device and its subscription model. And that’s not even the biggest problem. It also may lead to questions about the entire premise of juicing itself, which is a way of transferring nutrients sans fiber that often leads to accusations that its proponents are selling “empty calories.”
As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t “juice,” I “salad.” I’ve always found it to be a satisfying way to get in a nutritionally appropriate number of vegetables while maintaining my glorious Dad Bod.I haven’t yet started to suffer from scurvy. But I believe there are many ways of achieving that glorious bod of your own, so I’ve learned to live alongside the juicing crowd.
While I’m certainly not immune to the minor sense of enjoyment that comes from seeing people who are either richer than me or chasing popularity via fads getting a little bit of humility, I’m still not sure that the game is up for Juicero just yet. Certainly, there are audacious bets originating from the Left Coast that have created a whole new team of folks for me to envy, and they’re obviously smarter than yours truly.
But my concern isn’t the recent public flogging that the company sustained. Similar doubts about an idea’s subjective silliness surrounded other products, including the SodaStream, the Keurig, home sous-vide makers and even the George Foreman Grill. Still, they’ve returned money to their investors and become parts of the home product market to varying degrees of success and ubiquity.
But here’s my belief why Juicero, as a concept, carries a lot of risk: It sits on so many linked assumptions that it teeters.
First, the juicing-as-nutrition category must continue to sustain momentum rather than be seen as something of a fad. That’s something that has not yet been proven: the category has grown and brands like SUJA (in CPG) and Juice Press (on-premise) have done well, but they have also been much less capital-intensive.
Second, if juicing-as-nutrition sustains that momentum, it would have to do so in a way in which home usage becomes a significant, if not dominant, portion of the market. This contends with on-premise or Ready-to-Drink formats where many of the new gains have originated until now. The company has in some ways hedged that assumption by creating an on-premise branch of its business, but that is also in the early stages. It might be time for Le Pain Quotidien to think about taking the “Made by Juicero” call-out off of its in-house juice menu for a little while.
Third, if juicing-as-nutrition grows at home, it will be the Juicero’s particular solution that consumers will adopt – the idea that an end-to-end juicing solution is the real problem to solve. However, this assumption was cast into doubt in late April when what some of what the company and its investors saw as advantages – WiFi! Bags! Bar Codes! Tons of Pressure! – were decried by skeptics as disadvantages. This realm is also a place where a cheaper, simpler solution might win out since the company has done itself no favors against a potential competitive technology.
Fourth, even if people buy it, they’ll have to keep wanting to use it. That’s been the problem for SodaStream, which continues to have problems with people buying it and then storing it forever after realizing that they can simply get a great deal on, say, a bottle of Polar Seltzer instead of having to listen to that awful in-house carbonation buzzing sound again.
Fifth, Juicero and juicing will move to the mainstream. And that’s possibly the biggest problem. The Juicero gaffe has once again exposed a cultural gulf in America between the “ordinary people” and Silicon Valley – or Washington – elites who want to tell the gulf between the populist nature of soda and the the elitism of the Silicon Valley crowd that supported it. There’s a move toward better nutrition, but if you have to spend the better part of a grand to get it – and then you have to buy your juice at a per-serving cost that’s equivalent to a case of Pepsi – a preachy, expensive lifestyle.As they say, it’s not going to bring those coal jobs back.
Again, there are better minds than mine that have probably played with the assumptions here, and seen a much bigger payoff that justifies the risks they represent. But on the other hand, the original story that caused the ruckus about hand-squeezing vs. the machine was prompted by a leak to Bloomberg by one of the company’s investors. So maybe the assumption train has run out.
Still, at least they haven’t started advertising. As we all know, to really screw that up, you’ve got to turn to a “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” personality.