As Americans become more aware of alarming obesity rates and increased instances of diabetes, many are making more conscious food choices and the food industry has taken notice. Health and wellness is a booming business, and within it, a trend is emerging: juicing. Juicing is exactly what it sounds like: fruits and vegetables pressed to a liquid and many are turning to it for detoxing, weight loss and just incorporating much needed fruits and vegetables into their diets.
Witnesses to the benefit of juicing firsthand are Brooklynite entrepreneurs Carl Foster and Kelly Keelo, who launched their business, Juice Hugger. The duo’s mission was to create tasty beverages that happen to be good for you. The company started as an online business in 2010 delivering juices to each customer individually and selling at festivals, events and corporate functions. They opened their first full scale location, incorporating food items in October and have tripled their sales in the first year.
BlackEnterprise.com spoke with Foster about the growth of juice bars and healthy cafes across the country, and how Juice Hugger is determined to stand out as juicing becomes less of a trend and goes more mainstream.
BlackEnterprise.com: What was the impetus behind starting a business in the heath and wellness field?
Foster: I was fat (laughing). I’d reached 218 pounds on my 5′ 9 frame. I’d gained the weight while working as an auditor; a position with a great deal of travel which led to on the road eating at fast food stops. In 2009 I’d reached my breaking point and wanted desperately to get healthy. I was introduced to the benefits of pressed juices through a great friend. After I started shedding pounds while making my own juices, making better eating choices, and through moderate exercise; my friends started asking me to make juices for them. From there the company grew quite organically. I started researching, talking to nutritionists and personal trainers and taking classes on nutrition and cooking. It became my life mission to help people, like myself, gain access to more healthy beverage choices. Today, I weigh in at 160 pounds.
How did you and Keelo meet and decide to start this business?
I have known my business partner, Kelly Keelo, for over 20 years. When I told her about my idea to start a pressed juice company she loved the idea & encouraged me to give it a real shot by moving to New York from California so that we could work together. Keelo handles all the branding, both online and offline; including all graphics, videos, our website, and social media. With limited start up capital, she was able to create a solid brand presence for Juice Hugger, which made our clients take our brand seriously.
Who is your target audience?
Our target audience is the urban community which has been painfully overlooked during this new “fresh juice era”. Companies like Starbucks are getting into the fresh juice market due to current market trends that make it a viable business move. However, most companies like ours are in upscale neighborhoods. I believe we are one of the first to take pressed bottled juices to the lower to middle class community. Our goal is to create quality products at a reasonable cost for the “everyman” who is often exposed to higher rates of Type 2 Diabetes and other food related illnesses due to poor eating choices increased by lack of healthy food options in the community. The limited access to health related education & the overwhelming amount of high fat food choices in urban neighborhoods is staggering.
What are some of the successful ways you have reached them?
We formed an online community through social media, our website, newsletters, my online YouTube show “Cookin With Crushâ€ and lots of community outreach events in New York as well as our hometown, Boston. My parents are also from Barbados and the Caribbean American community has been wonderful.
We created products that are not only healthy but taste great & are affordable. People want access to tasty, healthy options so the challenge has been getting people to taste our product. Our retention rate for customers after trying our product is very high, thankfully.
How have you gone about financing the business?
Our company has been financed entirely by our own capital. We felt that we needed to establish our brand first before outside investors would take our vision seriously since most business advisors told us that putting a fresh pressed bottled juice cafe in “the hoodâ€ wouldn’t work. Now that we are a valued addition to our Brooklyn community, we would like to begin talks with potential investors in order to expand. We have so many solid ideas that make us excited about the longevity of our brand. We have great visions of opening Juice Hugger Cafes in urban markets throughout the country using locally grown organic produce & workers from local communities. We want to be considered a life style brand that aids in making our community healthy, proud, and economically sound.
Our current company slogan is “HUG LIFE.” We want our customers to understand that healthy beverages and food can taste great, be affordable and aid in a better quality of life. Food should be considered body fuel, not make you tired and uncomfortable.
Give us an idea of the types of items we can find on the menu and what makes them unique to your brand?
We serve pressed organic bottled beverages and healthy food with vegetarian/vegan options. Our customers love our Juicy Greens (often called our “salad in a bottle”), our Strawberry Limonade, and our Cashew Milk. We offer an amazing Vegan Chili using Soy Chorizo, a Split Pea with Tempah Bacon, and a Chicken Noodle made from home made chicken stock. Our various Wrap styles are on Whole Wheat or Flaxseed wrap bread. We serve Brown Rice & Quinoa instead of White Rice. We also make delicious baked goods that are all vegan (we use an egg replacement or apple sauce instead of dairy.) Our most exciting item is our Juice Hugger Juice Cleanse (The Love, Happiness & Clarity) which offer six (6) 16oz beverages per day as a juice fast in order to give your digestive system a rest and purge your body of toxins.
What have been are some of your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is educating potential customers on the value of drinking pressed juices as well as getting them to try it. For many, healthy means “blandâ€. We also find that folks have it hard-wired in them that healthy food is also way more expensive then fast food but that really isn’t true anymore. Yes, our food prices may be slightly higher than traditional fast food chains but what you are getting for the cost far exceeds the extra $1-$2 you may have to spend.
What are your greatest achievements?
Opening our first cafe on a shoe string budget! We are so grateful for the opportunity to offer our products to our community. We found a kitchen that needed so much work it was a little daunting but with help from friends & family, we opened. My father painted our cafe, Keelo’s father did all the electrical and we found great people in our community to do the rest. We still pinch ourselves at how far we have come & are invigorated at the prospect of how far we can go.
What are some ways you’d like to expand the business within 2012?
We are expanding our product line to include hand cut “nachos” and dips. We will be selling additional “healthy replacement” products and organic produce for people who want to cook at home more healthily. We are doing a Pop Up Gift Store series in which we bring in local businesses to offer their small business products to our customers near “gifting holidays” like Valentine’s Day & Easter. And we will continue filming additional episodes of “Cookin With Crush” in order to help educate our loyal “Huggers” on how to eat to live your best life.
Are you an entrepreneur? Small business is BIG BUSINESS at the 2012 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo hosted by Nationwide, May 23-26, at the Hilton Chicago Hotel in Chicago, IL. Expect innovative sessions, high-powered speakers, and an early peek at the products, trends, and services you’ll need to stay ahead of the curve. Beat the March 16 Early Bird deadline to get a $200 registration discount at www.blackenterprise.com/ec/! And be sure to nominate your company or another business for our Small Business Awards! Want to pitch your business idea and win $10,000? Don’t miss the chance to enter our Elevator Pitch Competition before March 30 to qualify for the $10,000 grand prize. To register and find out more, visit www.blackenterprise.com/ec/