When a good juice has been sitting still for too long, its contents separate and sediment sinks to the bottom. It’s up to the drinker to give the bottle a good shake before indulging in order to bring the contents back together. Sustaining a beverage craze can be similar: no matter how innovative the product category, you’ve still got to shake it up often to deliver a fresh taste.
Since the cold-pressed juice explosion started with Suja, Blueprint, and Evolution Fresh a few years ago, dozens of new startups have launched to follow in their footsteps. But consumers have rapidly moved past the cleanse trend that first launched Suja and Blueprint; alongside Evolution Fresh, all three brands produced product inventories that incorporate higher-calorie and higher-sugar ingredients like apple and pineapple to sweeten their offerings to a more mainstream consumer. But now they – and the companies that followed – are pulling back, as consumers are concerned about the creeping sugar content in many juices. Sugar’s new “Public Enemy Number One” status has led many companies to develop lower sugar varieties: hence a flood of new takes on green juice. But as tasty and nutritious as they are, new flavors are still an inside-the-box way to differentiate a product set.
Instead, across the category, cold-pressed juice makers are finding new and unique product lines to generate true differentiation, with brands now carving out niches for lemonades, shots, tonics, vinegars, milks, and even bone broths to complement their flagship juice products. As the market morphs and consumers chase the next trend, more juice brands have been exploring these new verticals.
IN SEARCH OF A REMEDY
Juice Served Here is a brick-and-mortar juice bar chain that has upped its wholesale game in the past few years, expanding into Whole Foods and also into another on-premise account, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Stores. The company has also evolved its product offerings, moving from cleanse-based juices – although it still sells a lot of cleanses – to incorporate shots and functional “tonics.”
According to the company’s founder and CEO, Alex Matthews, while cleanses may no longer be the lynchpin for the category, “remedy” products, consumed on-the-go and to strong effect, are likely to be a big driver in the coming years.
“Everyone wants to feel like there’s an antidote to the way they’re feeling,” Matthews said. “The shot category is a very exciting one and it’s just beginning.”
Shots have long been a mainstay of juice bars, but it’s only recently that the concept has entered wholesale. Monfefo, a Brooklyn-based company that specializes in root vegetable products, launched solely with ginger-based shots – no full bottled offerings.
“Almost all cold-pressed juice makers are coming out with shots, it’s definitely a trend,” said Justine Monsul, Monfefo’s founder. “People want that quick and easy consumption, they don’t want to be holding a green juice all day with them that’s already warm by the time they finish it.”
Monfefo’s retail footprint has expanded rapidly out from the company’s New York homebase, with buyers picking up the product in Los Angeles and Texas. While retailers were initially confused with the product – Monsul recalled many retailers asking if they were looking to compete with 5-Hour Energy – many have begun to come on board.
That’s been helped by other companies as well. Brick-and-Mortar retailer Juice Press currently offers two shots, but brands such as JUS by Julie, Kor, and now Juice Served Here are looking to grow the category.
However, many shots largely remain at a premium price point, with Monfefo retailing for $4.99 per shot. While some brands have lowered prices recently, Monsul sees the value in the higher price tag.
“I think that customers are going to understand the value of the ginger shot,” Monsul said. “People understand going to the bar and buying a shot of vodka for $7. So you have a shot of ginger juice with lemon and honey, something that’s so much more powerful and better for you for $5, they’re going to understand that value.”
The remedy idea may have legs – and it’s helping guide brand evolution as well. Monfefo currently offers a ginger shot and turmeric shot, but will soon itself expand outside of shots with a new product, a 16 oz. “Ginger Water.” Opting to position the product as an enhanced water, Monsul said she plans for Monfefo to own the root vegetable identity, building all future products around ginger, turmeric, and similar veggies.
When Evolution Fresh, Blueprint, and Suja took off, they all found different paths to success. Blueprint soared quickly on a direct-to-consumer model that led to an early buyout by Hain. Suja dominated in Whole Foods before partnering with Coca-Cola. Evolution Fresh was quickly bought out by Starbucks.
These early successes have opened new sales avenues for juice companies that didn’t exist even five years ago, Matthews told BevNET. The popularity of the juicing trend has made retailers like Target and even CVS open to entreaties from healthy juice companies, and product-on-demand e-commerce services like Fresh Direct are driving business as well.
“Think about the drug category, like Walgreens, CVS, Duane Reade – you go into these places and they have fresh produce, and some of it is organic,” Matthews said. “When Blueprint launched that was not an option, that wasn’t even in people’s psyches to go into Walgreens and buy produce. That’s psychologically a shift. Target for us, we never would have considered, but our cold-pressed juices, and tonics, shots, and lemonades are suddenly relevant.”
On-premise is also an evolving sector for not just Juice Served Here but also several other juice companies. Ryne O’Donnell, founder and CEO of startup Sol-ti, said on-premise sales at high-end restaurants are becoming a viable channel for juice companies and other premium products.
“There’s a ton of restaurants that are interested in having higher quality food that have a medium-to-high-end plate price,” O’Donnell said. “They’re going to turn toward craft soda, they’re going to turn toward kombucha, organic beverages, juice, all types of things. That’s a wide open market.”
That kind of shift, however, has been accompanied by changes in how many of the first wave of brick-and-mortar juice companies see themselves.
Juice Press is one company that has tried to evolve from juice as product to juice as lifestyle. Founded in 2010, the chain has offered cold-pressed juice and cleanses since its inception, but an expanding menu corresponding to trends has given the chain the viability it needed to not just survive but to grow.
“We never bought into the juice cleanse,” said Michael Karsch, the company’s chairman. “We do believe it is a positive thing to do a juice cleanse for your body, to create a habit or a refresh. But the juice cleanse itself we thought was a moment in time, for the size it became.”
The bubble has burst, he said. But recognizing the bubble early was key to giving Juice Press the legroom it needed to innovate.
“We said we need to move our feet fast, and this was always about trying to create a wellness platform,” Karsch said. “We said if we sit here and only have bottled juices then we’re subject to the market, it being popular or unpopular, it being cyclical.”
Expanding its offerings, Juice Press added soups, salad dressings, and hot sauces. Infused waters, coffee, and shots became more important parts of the business, as did probiotic offerings. Desserts even took on a significant role for the company’s on-premise business.
While the original juice line still remains the largest part of the business, according to Karsch the balance has changed; the company sells about 2,000 bottles of water per day and its overall cookie sales will reach the low hundred-thousands by the end of the year. While the average price per unit has dropped, the volume has shot up. This “broader, deeper, and faster” innovation approach has given Juice Press the edge it needs over competitors to rise above smaller players in the New York and Boston markets.
Largely a brick-and-mortar business, the company has added new locations at a rapid rate, going from 4 stores five years ago to 68 today, with the number set to jump again to 120 by the end of next year, Karsch told BevNET.
And that juice-based lifestyle play is also happening with RTD companies, as well. In Denver, Pressery started deliberately shifting its focus away from juice early on, first adding drinking vinegars in 2014, then a bone broth line at the end of 2015, and most recently this year, as it has entered the drinkable soup category. Founder and CEO Ian Lee told BevNET his focus has increasingly drifted away from juice over the past few years and that Pressery views itself more as an innovative food and beverage wellness brand.
Pressery is not the only company to vastly expand its scope. Forager Project, notably, has evolved into an all-around plant-based wellness brand since it was founded in 2013, now offering more varieties of nut-based milks and yogurts, as well as chips made from the byproduct of its juicing process.
“Consumers are getting smarter and expecting the brands to bring more relevant proven information to them to improve their diets and lifestyles,” Lee said. “I also think people are looking for products they can expand the use occassion of. We ask how we can reinvent things that are already out there, stale categories that need a mix-up.”
Or a shake-up.
While across categories beverage formulators are finding every which way they can to kill the sugar content in their bottles, lemonade, for the most part, remains a holdout. For many lemonade makers, nostalgia and indulgence keep consumers coming back to the venerable drink – but that doesn’t mean others aren’t taking a look at how to twist the lemon in different ways.
That mix of nostalgia and adaptability also means that lemonade is still growing, even as other old-school juice drinks take a hit. Both ambient and refrigerated products in the category were up more than 6 percent and more than 7 percent, respectively, year over year as of mid-August, according to retail data provider IRI. To catalyze growth further, brands are looking to different strategies to help pick up the pace.
At Lori’s Original Lemonade, which makes full-calorie, organic ades with real lemons, the company’s products appeal to both children and nostalgia-struck adults. While the beverages contain traditional levels of sugar, founder Lori Volk said many adults prefer their lemonades be reminiscent of their childhoods, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t also an opportunity to reach those who need less sweetness in their diets.
“Some people that need less sugar we encourage them to mix it,” Volk said. “We have a lot of people using our lemonades as mixers, whether they just add water, sparkling water, tea, or tequila. It’s able to do that.”
Volk said she believes there is also a market for those looking to spike their drink, and is pushing for new business in encouraging consumers to use their drinks as mixers. The company is exploring the potential for a proper mixer line in the future, but currently recommends consumers use the core line however they wish.
In August, King Juice Company, owner of lemonade brand Calypso, was acquired by private equity firm Mason Wells. According to Calypso president Jeff Outlaw, the firm was seeking to add a CPG beverage business, and Calypso had grown its lemonade portfolio drastically over the past decade with a slew of innovative flavors. The deal came regardless of the “800 lb. gorilla in the room” – the line’s full-calorie sugar content, he said. Instead, lemonade is an excuse for consumers to let the gorilla to roam free.
“With lemonade there’s not an expectation to be low calorie,” Outlaw said.
Even juice makers such as Juice Served Here and Sol-ti have been embracing the indulgent nature of lemonade with their own organic, functional lines. According to Juice Served Here CEO Alex Matthews, despite the company putting a focus on low-sugar beverages, lemonade is still a high performing product.
“The reality is people are still going to eat ice cream, right?” Matthews said. “The lemonades, while I don’t say they’re an indulgent treat, there’s always going to be a customer that wants one.”
But even if most brands aren’t sweating the sugar woes, others are still moving in to find palatable low and sugar-free alternatives. Sweettauk Lemoande announced in July it had reformulated its product set to max out at 5g of sugar per bottle with stevia making up the difference. And in January, Bai launched its first lemonade with the Sao Paulo Strawberry Lemonade flavor through its core product line.
Like other Bai beverages, the lemonade is only 5 calories and sweetened with a blend of stevia extract and erythritol. Limited run summer flavors Burundi Blueberry Lemonade and Limu Lemonade will be re-released in 2018. According to Chad Portas, chief creative officer at Bai, the line has benefited from being among the small number of competitive sugar-free lemonades on the market, filling a white space where there’s plenty of room to innovate. And plenty of excuses not to.