Frey Farms CEO Sarah Frey grew her family’s single farm in southern Illinois into a national supplier of produce, with more than a dozen farms and facilities located throughout the Midwest and Southeast. Now the company is continuing to build its beverage division — which already includes Tsamma Watermelon Juice and craft private label provider Fresh pour — with a new line of better-for-you drinks, Sarah’s Homegrown.
The company launched Sarah’s Homegrown Agua Frescas, a line of frozen juice drink mixes, this month in Walmart nationwide. The blended juices are made from fresh produce, including fruits grown and squeezed on the company’s farms. The new line includes Watermelon Cucumber, Strawberry Lemon, Mint Lime Mojito, Mango Pineapple, and Pina Colada varieties packaged in multiserve pouches and will retail for $4.98 per six-serving package.
Frey Farms began building its beverage division six years ago when the company opened a private label beverage production unit that partners with retailers, distributors, and chain restaurants. Speaking with BevNET, Frey said she had been producing similar products to the agua fresca line in fountain drink format for private label customers for several years and watching how consumers embraced natural, better-for-you products, she saw an opportunity to introduce the Sarah’s Homegrown line as a way to grow farm-sourced beverages in mass market retailers. As well, Frey wanted the line to serve “a higher purpose” of reducing food waste by using fresh produce and drive down the retail price to make the products accessible to low-income consumers.
“You shouldn’t have to pay a lot of money for a clean healthy beverage,” Frey said. “It should be that you have to pay six or eight bucks for a clean beverage that doesn’t have artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, all that stuff. So our focus was to leverage the scale of Frey Farms and all the growers that we work with to drive down the cost while supporting the mission of ending food waste.”
Frey said she believes agua frescas are an on-trend category that is heading toward the mainstream thanks to its positioning as an alternative to CSDs. She cited leadership in this change by food service chain restaurants such as Panera Bread, Pret-a-Manger, and Chipotle moving away from major soda brands and toward working with companies like Frey Farms to create custom blend better-for-you beverage options. Subway, which purchases agua fresca products from Frey Farms, has similarly put healthier beverage options at the forefront of its stores with its Fresh Pour Beverage Stations.
While the first line of Sarah’s Homegrown products are frozen, Frey said RTD products will be launched under the brand name in January at select retailers during category resets. Among the target consumers will be parents looking for healthier drink options for their kids. She noted the RTD line will largely focus on agua frescas but innovation will also “go beyond” that category.
“When I saw more and more of the big brands going out there and venturing into this space and away from traditional carbonated beverage offerings, I thought there is a big opportunity now for frescas,” she said. “With food service controlling 50 percent of the beverage space, consumers are having interactions with agua frescas now. It can be built there in food service and then that translates to retail shelves when consumers have those interactions and they know what to expect.”
In addition to Sarah’s Homegrown, Frey Farms also produces Tsamma Watermelon Juice, a line of cold-pressed watermelon juices and juice blends in 12 oz bottles that also emphasizes its role in reducing food waste by using the company’s own watermelon supply. Frey said the brand is continuing to grow as the company puts more attention on its beverage division.
“When you control the supply of the raw ingredients, that affords us the ability to do things from a cost standpoint that maybe other companies who try to get into the watermelon juice business don’t necessarily have that advantage,” Frey said. “For us, we can make it all day long every day. It’s not a challenge for us to get cost-driven out of the production and focus on continuing to provide a quality beverage.”