In recent years, there has been a surge in awareness when it comes to what we are eating. Processed foods are labelled as cancer-causing and sodas blamed for obesity. While there used to be few products on the market that would outweigh the benefits of home-made meals and drinks, many recent startups have based their value propositions on promoting healthy living and eating through services and products. Amongst them is the San Diego-based company Suja Juice.
Suja Juice has grown at a breathtaking pace: In 2013, their first year of operation, the company made $18 million in revenue. In January 2015, that number rose to $42 million. To top things off, the company announced their prized partnership with Coca-Cola recently.
The website states: “Suja is not owned by The Coca-Cola Company. Coke made a minority investment in our company, meaning we are still privately held, and nothing will change about our product: it will always be Organic, Non-GMO and HPPd blends of cold-pressed juice & purees. But now we get to work with Coke to achieve our mission of getting an organic, non-GMO and HPP juice into as many hands as possible.”
Friends for Success
The story of how the four co-founders of Suja, Eric Ethans, Annie Lawless, Jeff Church and James Brenner met reminds one of destiny.
Eric Ethans opened a raw food restaurant called Raw Food Guy in California after graduating from college, but it didn’t do too well and swiftly closed down. Instead of taking a steady job, Ethans set out to travel for the next four years, visiting major countries in the Pacific such as Fiji, Hawaii and Indonesia and making a living as a private chef at local restaurants.
After returning to California and opening up another company that failed again, he met Annie Lawless, a yoga instructor, receptionist and law student at the University of San Diego.
Lawless had celiac disease, which forced her to live a gluten-free life and resort to making homemade juices supplementing her diet. She saw Ethans walk with homemade green juice in his hand, and it sparked their life-changing discussion and eventually lead to the foundation of the startup that would change their lives.
They started by selling home-made juices to yoga students. The two would buy produce from Whole Foods, then pour the organic liquid into empty coconut water bottles. It was a success. “They were literally taking the product into people’s homes and putting it into their refrigerators for them…It was probably breaking a ton of laws,” said Jeff Church, one of the co-founders, in an interview with Forbes.
Shortly after that, they met James Brennan, a restaurant entrepreneur that became co-founder number three with Lawless and Ethans when they made him try a 2-week cleanse with their homemade juice. Brennan said he was hooked after that. Finally, Jeff Church, another entrepreneur and Harvard MBA became the fourth co-founder of Suja Juice.
“I don’t think anyone here thought this was going to be as big as it is,” Ethans said in an interview with Forbes.
It’s hard to imagine a product of pure, organic ingredients not spoiling after a day. This would happen if it weren’t for cold-pressuring their products, says Suja Juice on their website. Cold-pressuring or HPP (High-pressure processing) “is a method of preserving packaged food products using extremely high pressure. Hydraulic fluid (normally water) is placed in a chamber and pressurised with a pump. This pressure is transmitted through the package into the food itself.” The process extends the shelf life of the Suja juices cancelling out one of the main difficulties in scaling the sales of organic products.