Drawing on his years as a Microsoft executive, Vital Juice founder and CEO Edward Balassanian tells his employees that “in the tech world if you’re not pivoting, you’re failing.” Now in the midst of a significant transition within his current business, Balassanian hopes that saying holds true in the world of cold-pressed juice.
Vital Juice had leaned on a strategy of building small, regional production facilities (the company called them “micro-juiceries”) as a way to give it greater access to local ingredients and offer expedient delivery of its organic, cold-pressed juices to area retailers, and, by extension, consumers. The diminutive size of the facilities (approximately 5,000 sq. ft. per space) was prohibitive for the addition of an HPP machine, as would be the cost for multiple units, so Vital, like many other cold-pressed juice companies, sent its products to an HPP toller to be processed.
That operational model, however, could not adequately support surging demand for Vital juices, said Balassanian, who noted that the juices were pulling particularly well in the New York City area, a region that Vital had entered late last year. Before entering the market, the company had built a production facility in Englewood, N.J., and also had an operation in Seattle — where Vital was founded — and a temporary juicery in Los Angeles. Balassanian pointed to Vital’s outsourcing of HPP as a significant bottleneck for the company in its efforts to get the freshest possible juice to its customers.
“The biggest liability that we had in the production of our juices was the time it took us to get our product from our facility to the HPP tolling centers,” Balassanian said. “The reality was that the product would not be as fresh because of the time it took us to get product to be [high pressure processed].”
As a result, Vital has liquidated its facilities in favor a business now predicated on working with regional co-packers that are also equipped with in-house HPP capabilities. Balassanian stated that while co-packers of cold-pressed juice were a scarce find just 18 months ago, the growth of the category has elicited the development of several new companies offering production and bottling services. Moreover, some HPP tollers have added juicing and co-packing equipment to their facilities to meet rising demand for such services, he said.
For now, Vital has consolidated all production to Calpack Foods, a food and beverage manufacturing facility that is located in Torrance, Calf. Calpack is owned by HPP Food Services (HPPFS), which is 10 miles away in Wilmington, acquired the business in 2012 as a way to offer juice brands a full service range of options, including cold storage, juicing, filling and high pressure processing. Balassanian described the relationship with Calpack as “essentially a tolling one,” in which Vital pays for ingredients and production time, while dictating the actual manufacturing process.
“If you look at the time to get the product the major markets we’re serving, it’s actually getting to shelf quicker than it was before, when we were doing our own operation,” Balassanian said. “I think our goal of getting the freshest product to the consumer is actually more realized now than it was before.”
The company has also partnered with Nutrifresh Services, a new HPP toller in Edison, N.J. Nutrifresh launched in October, and is being advised by Vital on the addition of co-packing equipment and learned expertise in cold-pressed juicing. Balassanian said that he’s hoping for production at Nutrifresh to begin this summer. He also noted that Vital does not have an exclusive deal with Nutrifresh, meaning that the company is able to offer co-packing services to other cold-pressed brands.
By partnering with Calpack and Nutrifresh, Balassanian noted that Vital will be able to service the majority of its existing and future markets within 48 hours, a faster turnaround than it had been able achieve with multiple production facilities. The partnerships will also give Vital the increased production capacity needed to service a broad geographic area, he noted.
“We’re still sourcing the same high quality ingredients, we’re still sourcing local wherever we can, but we’re producing at facilities that are much more robust that we were able to put together,” said Balassanian.
Because Vital is now outsourcing its production, the company has removed the phrase “locally pressed” from its label. It may also remove the juice’s date of production, which had been indicated by a sticker on each cap. Outside of packaging, there are other changes coming, Balassanian said, including a revamped formulation in which Vital juices will feature high protein and fiber content.
Amid the shift in production strategy, Jina Wye, who had been Vital’s director of marketing, has segued into a newly created role of General Manager. It appears that Beth Gantz, a veteran of BluePrint Cleanse who last June joined Vital Juice as its operations chief, has left the company.