In the beginning of December, cold pressed juice maker Juice Served Here was recognized as a Rising Star in the beverage industry at BevNET Live Winter 2017. Since it founding in 2013, the brand, which marketed a broad range of premium juices, tonics, smoothies, shots and lemonades, had risen to prominence on the strength of its brick-and-mortar juice shops and its stylish design aesthetic.
That was part of the reason why what happened next came as a surprise to the industry. Just over a week after receiving the award, Juice Served Here suddenly shuttered its three retail locations in the Los Angeles area overnight and halted all online sales. On December 15, founder Alex Matthews announced the company’s closure on social media.
Roughly two months later, Matthews is eager to move on to his newest challenge: to evolve the visual identity for Forager Project as the plant-based food and beverage brand’s new chief marketing officer. In a call with BevNET last week, Matthews reflected on this difficult transitional period in his life and career.
“I personally have been devastated by the end of Juice Served Here,” Matthews said in a phone interview with BevNET last week. “It’s a material and a mental loss for me.”
In discussing the reasons for the company’s closure, Matthews described a “perfect storm” of issues that converged last November. CFO Bart Dall suffered a debilitating stroke and was forced to resign, while Juice Served Here’s existing investor group began to suffer from “fatigue,” according to Matthews. That combination “started the clock” for him, without the help of his CFO, to find a new investment group in time for Juice Served Here to meet its payroll obligations, and ultimately time ran out.
“I’ve heard this expression before but time is the killer of all deals, and time sort of killed our hopes of finding a new investment partner,” he said. The timing was particularly frustrating, as Matthews said the company had just achieved its best sales month ever and was awaiting the activation of a distribution deal to service the New York City metro area through Dora’s Naturals.
In the weeks since announcing the closure of Juice Served Here, Matthews said he has been working to try to maximize the value of the company’s assets in order to compensate the brand’s suppliers and creditors. This includes exploring a sale of everything from brand trademarks to store leases and a 25,000 sq. ft. manufacturing and bottling facility with high pressure processing (HPP) machinery.
“I am absolutely sympathetic and I feel awful about the people who lost money in the Juice Served Here deal, all the investors that supported the brand,” he said. “It keeps me awake at night still to this day. I don’t think that’s going to change for a while.”
In the wake of Juice Served Here’s closure, Matthews found support from within the community of business owners and entrepreneurs in the beverage industry.
“When you have a small part in the beverage world, your connections and peer group swells,” he said. “You become connected with people and the one thing that has happened to me since I decided to close Juice Served Here is that I felt an overwhelming level of support from the people in the industry.”
One of those individuals was Forager Project CEO Stephen Williamson, with whom Matthews had previously discussed co-packing for Juice Served Here. A conversation between the pair eventually led to a job offer for Matthews with a specific mission attached: introduce a new visual identity for the growing Forager brand.
In moving to Forager Project, Matthews also brought along two associates from Juice Served Here: marketing manager Hannah Ells, who will serve as marketing director at Forager, and art director Sandy Yang.
While work is still only in an early stage, Matthews said being able to explore how Forager Project can develop from a design standpoint has been a “freeing experience.” In shifting from a juice company to a brand that produces a variety of plant-based products, with 50 percent of its business coming from yogurt and non-dairy milk, he sees a broad canvas on which to work.
“For me it was a real opportunity to get in there and work on the fun stuff, which is new packaging, new logo, new website, new social, introducing lifestyle images and really kind of focusing on Forager more as a food brand,” he said, noting that the visual motif will be simple. “This is kind of a different feel and a different focus and it feels pretty liberating that we can go in so many different directions while staying true to who we are as a brand. “
Forager Project CEO Stephen Williamson noted that, for a relatively small brand like his own, establishing a point of differentiation through an attractive package design is particularly critical to building a consumer audience.
“He’s got an aesthetic sense that’s very much in keeping with my own, which is pretty much minimalist,” said Stephen Williamson, CEO of Forager Project.
In an Instagram post on his personal account, Matthews teased an early glimpse of what Forager Project’s new design might eventually look like. The image featured a mock-up of a the upper half of a bottle, showcasing a new type font for the brand name in white against a black background.
“I would say let’s have a bit of fun with it,” Matthews said of his approach. “In the process when you rebrand anything you have to be really careful and mindful of the history, you have to remain authentic. At the same time, we are in the food space and we should also remember that you can have a bit of fun doing it.”