Smart Juice Gets Its Grove On

Brand: Smart Juice Organic
Headquarters: Bethlehem, PA
Product: 100% juice, USDA NOP certified in recyclable glass
Launch date: August 2007
Sales: 2007: $185,000; 2008: $650,000; projected for 2009: $2 million
Target demo: Families interested in personal wellness, quality of product, price/value, wellness of the earth
Competition: Knudsen, Woodstock Farms
Distribution: Whole Foods, D’Agostinos, Shoprite
Claims: Fresh-pressed, not from concentrate, no added sugars, no filler juice
Secret weapon: A low price point
New products: Fig Juice and Purple Carrot Juice

What the world needs now is probably not another fruit juice. But there’s always room for one more at the store if your product is a clear winner in terms of price, ingredients, and, oh yeah, flavor.

“The biggest hurdle for a small company is getting shelf space,” said David Kimmel, founder of Smart Juice, which launched a line of eight higher quality/lower cost organic juices a year and a half ago. “It’s like trying to buy real estate that doesn’t exist. You’re basically motivating the buyer to squeeze somebody else out.”

Kimmel—his surname roughly translates to “one who sold Caraway seed”—was a born foodie, and he has a track record in predicting taste trends. A graduate and instructor of the Culinary Institute of America, Kimmel was a key consultant in the creation of the school’s American Bounty restaurant and predicted the return to classic American grub. Remember the Great Grilled-Over-Mesquite-Wood Movement of the early ’80s? He helped fuel it.

Kimmel grew up eating pomegranates, aka “Chinese apples,” and had a feeling the anti-oxidant-rich fruit, which grows most prevalently in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions, was ripe for a comeback. He began importing them in 1998 or so. “I had this sense that foods that enhanced wellness were going to grow in popularity as baby boomers aged,” Kimmel said. Soon after, he read a magazine blurb about the benefits of pom and the two were fast friends again.

Simply put, really good juice—the kind that’s organic, made without cheap filler fruits and not from concentrate and such—is expensive. How does Kimmel cut costs? Surprisingly, by flying fruit in from far away.

“The growing fields in the U.S. have shrunk tremendously, and the organic fields are practically nonexistent,” explained Kimmel, who has partners in pom-friendly Turkey. (Iraq, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, India and China also grow the fruit.) “Turkey has a large acreage of organic so the supply chain is available, which is critical in launching a product. So our distribution chain is always full,” Kimmel said. “It’s viable for us to come into the market with a 365-day supply, and it makes it extraordinarily price competitive.”

So, Smart Juice can undercut its competitors by a few bucks on a 1-liter bottle, say, $6.99 versus $8.99 for Knudsen. “We think everyone should be able to access pesticide-free, organic juice at a price they can afford,” Kimmel said. “Not just people with high incomes.” The entrepreneur acknowledges that flying fruit around the globe leaves a carbon footprint and says the company compensates by running a green processing facility with wind turbines, solar harvesting and drip irrigation for maximum water conservation.

Soon, his distribution will include the Holy Grail of consumable retail: Whole Foods. Smart Juice has tested well in the organic chain’s North Atlantic and Northeast regions, and will go wide in April. This deal also gives Smart Juice distribution with United Natural Foods, which has weekly access to another 25,000 health food stores.

The best form of marketing is word of mouth, Kimmel said, and blind tests with store buyers have the brand winning an impressive 80% of the time. People snuck back for seconds (and even swiped bottles) at trade-show test booths, Kimmel said.