Pitaya Plus Sprouts in First Year

In the 11 months since its debut, Pitaya Plus has made significant strides in the distribution of its antioxidant-rich beverage. But its owner has bigger goals than that – he wants to help change the world.

More on that later, however.

Right now, the brand appears poised to continue with a strong 2012. Despite hitting the market at a time when U.S. consumer knowledge of pitaya is very low (it’s more common name, dragon fruit, is a little better known but still very unfamiliar), Pitaya Plus has resonated with natural foods retailers and consumers who have taken to its message of health and wellness and applauded the company’s focus on fair and sustainable business practices.

After debuting in about 120 Whole Foods stores last January, the company has doubled its footprint to more than 250 retailers across the country, including Whole Foods, New Leaf, and Sprouts. Chuck Casano, the founder of Pitaya Plus, credits his company’s relationship with Green Shoots Distribution, an independent natural foods distributor, as being a key to its first-year success. Based in San Francisco, Green Shoots carries a number of entrepreneurial beverages, including Kombucha Botanica and Columbia Gorge Organic juices. The company helped structure Pitaya’s first deal with Whole Foods, an exclusive in the Northern and Southern California and Rocky Mountain regions.

Since then, Green Shoots has helped Pitaya find placement in 21 other retailers along the East Coast, Texas, and the central U.S. The beverage recently gained shelf space in Yes! Organic Markets in the Washington D.C. area as well as New Leaf Community Markets in Northern California.

“Green Shoots has been instrumental in getting us meetings with retailers,” Casano said. “In July, 95 percent of our accounts were with Whole Foods. Now, [that number] is closer to 50 percent.”

Nevertheless, there is tinkering going on: Casano and his team recently reformulated Pitaya Plus and added a second SKU. The drink – promoted as “The All Natural Body Cleansing Super Juice” – now contains 100 percent juice with no added sugar, and is available in Pitaya + Lemon + Coconut Water and Pitaya + Mango varieties.  Casano noted that the line extension gives the brand a stronger shelf presence and that most, if not all, of its retailers carry both products. He also said that Pitaya Plus will be certified organic sometime in the summer of 2012.

And now back to changing the world.

Although establishing new distribution and expanding its retail presence have been both vital to the growth of Pitaya Plus, it is the company’s commitment to a social mission that drives the brand’s overall business philosophy. The company works with independent pitaya farmers and single mothers in poverty-stricken areas of Nicaragua to source and process the fruit for its products. Pitaya pays these workers above minimum wage, and helps contribute to their social security, according to its web site.

Casano explained that Pitaya’s dedication to social empowerment has cemented its relationship with many retailers and, in particular, Whole Foods, which he said shares the same mission statement and philosophy as his company.

“It’s had a huge impact on our business,” Casano said. “People want to understand your supply lines.”

Pitaya recently commissioned the creation of three videos that tell the story of the brand and its work with Nicaraguan farmers (each of which you can view here).

To date, Pitaya Plus has received only two rounds of funding from a single angel investor. Casano said the investor believes in the idea of the brand and product and – most importantly – trusts him and his team.  With financing in hand and the rapid growth of the brand, Casano said that it should be possible for the company to be profitable by the end of 2012.

“We’re well ahead of where we thought we would be [at this point],” Casano said.