It’s no secret Juicero is in a squeeze. The home juicer/foodtech startup, which famously raised $120 million in venture capital funding, seemed to be soaring for the stars. But as they say on the internet, life comes at you fast — and the internet came at Juicero at the speed of life this week.
Early morning on Wednesday, Bloomberg mocked Juicero with a video and report showing that the company’s signature $400 juicer was irrelevant when it came to extracting juice from the single-serving produce packets that Juicero sells for $5 to $7 each. While the company boasts that their machine applies four tons of pressure to get juice from the packs, they were shown on camera being squeezed by hand. The video prompted a viral flurry of people ready to take Silicon Valley down a peg and web users soon took issue with everything about the brand, from the price to its insistence on connecting the juicer through WiFi and remotely invalidating packets that have expired through QR code technology.
On Friday, CEO Jeff Dunn, who joined the company first as an advisor and investor — alongside his old employer, Campbell Soup Co. — before taking the helm in November, issued a response to the controversy via blogging platform Medium. Using the platform to introduce himself to the public, Dunn offered a refund to those customers upset by the press coverage and attempted to explain away the issue by alluding to hypothetical “frazzled” customers who benefit from the Juicero’s simple clean-up and data collection. But the internet responded as the internet often does in these situations: by unleashing the hooting and hollering hounds of schadenfreude.
Gizmodo ran a response to Dunn painting his defense as a desperate plea, and quickly set to taking the piece down further point by point. One of their top targets was Juicero’s expiration-driven remote control over the juice packs.
“I am absolutely in love with the idea of a juice machine that physically prevents you from squeezing bad produce,” wrote Gizmodo’s Libby Watson. “Perhaps we should connect ice cream makers to wifi so Weight Watchers can remotely prevent us from gorging ourselves? What about a little robot hand to physically slap the tainted bag out of your hand onto the floor?”
The good users of Twitter.com were none the kinder.
Juicero pouches $3,600
someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this. my family is dying
— frazzled juicero dad (@Becca_DP) April 21, 2017
Oh my god, the Juicero story is literally the Juice-Loosener from The Simpsons pic.twitter.com/e6Vo0Gg7WJ
— Steven Lemongello (@SteveLemongello) April 19, 2017
The outrage comes following what had been a fairly strong year for the product following Dunn’s joining the company as CEO late last year. Juicero is currently sold on the West Coast and the company follows a specific growth and expansion plan. In January, the company cut the price for its juicers from $700 to $400, about a year ahead of plan, after sales of its packets were far ahead of schedule, it said.
Juicero did not respond to questions sent by BevNET on Friday.
The company was founded in San Francisco by Doug Evans, former CEO of Organic Avenue. After years of tinkering with the design of his Keurig-for-Juice appliance, Evans raised $120 million in funding from a number of beverage and technology investors, including Google Ventures, Campbell Soup Company, and First Beverage Group. According to Crunchbase, the company most recently completed a $28 million Series C round on April 1, 2016.
Evans has said that the inspiration for Juicero came from the lack of a clean and simple juicer on the market and a desire to find a way to bring top quality juice to home kitchens.
“I went obsessively through every single juicer sold … and every single juicer had some major limiting factor that prevented me from wanting to use it,” Evans said in December, speaking at BevNET Live. “All consumer juicers had was a centrifuge or an auger or a masticator. And they required hard work, were hard to clean, and they didn’t create great juice.”
None of this message seems to have come across in the fallout of the Bloomberg video this week. Instead, internet users, many of whom were learning about Juicero for the first time, turned the company into something of a pariah for all of Silicon Valley. Columnists seemed to delight in seeing a highly funded tech company fall while selling what appeared to be an unnecessary product. Dunn’s blog post on Medium seems to have only dug the hole deeper.
Speaking to BevNET, PR and crisis consultant Robbie Vorhaus, CEO of Vorhaus and Company, said the Bloomberg video reminded him of the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones, after watching a swordsman spend several overdrawn seconds of screentime showily spinning his blades, simply shrugs and guns him down. The swordsman, in this case, is Juicero, Vorhaus said, and Bloomberg is Indy.
“I advise my clients that if you don’t tell your story the way you want it to be told, somebody else is going to tell your story for you,” Vorhaus said. “And it won’t be how you want it.”
Vorhaus does not represent Juicero, but said he felt the brand needed to better define its story. Dunn’s response failed because it was defensive and reactionary, he said. Instead, Juicero could have responded quickly and briefly, acknowledging that the packets can be hand-squeezed but insisting that machine is the product needed to deliver juice the right way — after all, you can fix your own car, but why would you?
As well, Vorhaus noted a lack of defenders online — no satisfied customers or brand ambassadors seemed to be on hand.
“The first thing is to never let a crisis go to waste,” he said.
As of today, it’s not clear how Juicero might bounce back. It has certainly seen a massive increase in its brand recognition. The company’s challenge, for now, is to make consumers forget how they learned about it.