On-Premise, Retail Strategies Complement Growth at Ripe

While high-pressure processed (HPP) cold-pressed juice has been on the market for years, Michel Boissy believes the category is just beginning to come into its own.

As the co-founder and CEO of FreshBev, the New Haven, Conn.-based maker of Ripe cold-pressed juices and cocktail mixers, Boissy has, over the company’s six-year existence, been positioning it to capitalize on what he called the “democratization” of the category. Fueled by recent proprietary innovations in packaging and dispensing technology, the two brands — Ripe Craft Juice and Ripe Bar Juice — are now in a position to grow both jointly and independently, with two distinct product offerings that can meet consumers either on-premise or at the grocery store.

“We like to think we are first in line to really be the brand that’s going to finally build and really take the HPP industry and capitalize on it,” said Boissy in an interview with BevNET last week.

For Ripe Bar Juice, a brand of super-premium mixers designed for bartenders, part of the challenge was waiting for on-premise accounts to fully understand the benefits of Ripe’s production process. Boissy said, in contrast to years prior, large on-premise operators, such as MGM Resorts International and upscale Chinese restaurant chain Hakkasan, are now beginning to embrace the concept as a way to offer a fresh juice cocktail program without incurring the additional labor and materials costs that come with in-house production. In turn, Ripe has developed proprietary technologies, such as its 5 gallon bag-in-box format and Cold Pressed On Tap (CPOT) system, aimed at better serving that channel.

“We really want to focus over the next year or two on going narrow and deep and really develop on-premise and grocery retail within very specific markets,” said Boissy, noting that the company’s sales are currently split at about 60 percent retail to 40 percent from on-premise, with the long-term goal of being 50/50. “For a smaller company, it is a challenge, and it definitely costs more money for us to run those two channels. But on the flipside of it, we are talking about two very distinct, very big revenue stream opportunities that we can leverage.”

While Ripe Craft Juice was created to scale more top line revenue through grocery retail sales, serving separate needs, when combined with Ripe Bar Juice, it also allows the company to offer a turnkey solution for on-premise accounts looking to upgrade their juice program.

“Now [on-premise accounts] have the ability to cost-effectively, at around 20 to 25 cents over shelf-stable, turn its entire cocktail program into cold-pressed juices,” he said. “It enables us to leverage this Red Bull-esque concept. We’ve seen exponential brand growth in a lot of the markets, especially the ones we’ve been in for a while, where we have a presence in both on-premise and grocery retail.”

On its own, Boissy has sought to expand the reach of Ripe Craft Juice and leverage the on-premise presence of Ripe Bar Juice to introduce the former into more grocery retail channels, where its has found room to grow in the white space between super premium HPP juices and the top-selling shelf-stable varieties. Unlike many other brands in the category, Ripe Craft eschews complex formulations, functional ingredients and exotic fruits, offering instead a variety of simple SKUs, such as Cranberry, Red Grapefruit, Pineapple, Orange. Boissy said the line delivers a more straightforward proposition: cold pressed, HPP versions of “the simple juices we all know and love.”

The line is also designed to be accessible, in which Ripe’s vertically integrated infrastructure and sourcing policy comes into play. The brand buys fruit directly from its suppliers, including Ocean Spray Cooperative, which keeps costs down, and making juices that only require a few ingredients per bottle allows for faster throughput. Those efficiencies give Ripe a 45 percent processing cost advantage across the competitive set, according to Boissy, and those savings are passed along to the consumer.

“We are able to hit the market at $2.99 for a 12 oz. bottle, and that’s a sustainable business model for us,” he said. “A lot of our competitive set is compressing already to get down to $4.99 or $3.99 to compete, and although their SKUs may be more complex and organic, still the market is going to go where it goes.”

In terms of Ripe’s lack of organic options, Boissy is betting that consumers will be won over instead by the concept of traceability. Through the brand’s website, consumers can use the date codes on each individual bottle of juice to find where and when the ingredients in that specific item were sourced and which varietals were used. While he conceded that Ripe will probably introduce a handful of organic SKUs at some point in the future, the brand is unlikely to pivot towards organic as a whole.

“What we are trying to do here is say: would you rather have a 100 percent traceable apple juice with apples from this farm in the Hudson Valley at an affordable price, or do you want to have an organic apple juice with apples from Ecuador in February?” he said. “That’s the way we are going: give a really good price, really good quality, and disclose everything.”

Boissy said retailers are responding positively to the simple proposition, noting that Ripe has signed up 1,500 grocery retailers that will be rolling out over the next few months. Craft Juice is currently sold at retailers like Aholds, Stop-N-Shop, H-E-B, and Walmart in the Northeast, South Florida, Texas, California, and has just launched in the Pacific Northwest. Aholds, Stop-N-Shop, H-E-B, and Walmart. Ripe also has a partnership with Whole Foods Market to produce a private-label line of cold pressed, HPP juices for stores in the natural retailer’s North Atlantic and Northeast regions. Furthermore, last August at a Whole Foods location in Sudbury, Mass., the brand introduced a first of its kind draft tap system in collaboration with Vermont-based kombucha brewery Aqua ViTea that allows users to dispense and mix kombucha with Ripe cold pressed juices.

Even as Ripe eyes further expansion in retail and on-premise, Boissy, a former aerospace engineer, is still prioritizing innovation as a cornerstone of the company. In response to consumers’ growing increasingly conscientious about their sugar intake, he said the brand has two initiatives in its innovation pipeline that involve removing some sugar from the juices and developing new intellectual properties that allow for high pressure processing of carbonated beverages, such as fruit-infused essence waters.

“The HPP cold-pressed space, in my vision, is not going anywhere; it’s an amazing technology,” he said. “It is our responsibility to not take wonderful technology and really think about everything. Change the way we source; change the way we process; and then change the way we consume. Let’s leverage HPP the way it should be leveraged.”