Founded in San Diego, California, in 2012, Suja Juice has never wavered from its core mission of being transparent and open about what went into its cold-pressed juice products by listing each ingredient clearly on the side of the bottle (i.e. two carrots, one cucumber...), noted co-founder of the company, James Brennan.
"People thought we were crazy for doing that, but that has translated over the past decade into serious trust with the consumer (and many imitators)," Brennan told FoodNavigator-USA.
When considering potential partners for acquisition, Brennan noted how Paine Schwartz Partners matched what Suja stood for on every level.
"We’ve been through this process a couple of times, and we’ve met with many different potential suitors. Paine Schwartz, first and foremost, they’re very smart and very dialed into the world that we play in, which is around ingredients, agriculture, health and wellness. Their firm stood for a lot of what Suja stood for, which is trust and transparency," said Brennan.
"Paine Schwartz is going to be an excellent custodian to this brand. They have a vision of taking this from where we are today to amazing new heights," he added.
'Shots have been the fastest growing [segment]'
Suja - which sold a minority stake to Coca-Cola in 2015 - registered rapid growth after it first launched and then again in 2018 with the launch of its shots business. Within the past year, the company has seen revenues continue to grow by strong double digits, said CEO Bob DeBorde.
"In the last year, the growth rates for cold-pressed juice have been in the 25% -30% range, and we’ve been pacing right along with the category as No. 1 cold-pressed juice brand," DeBorde told FoodNavigator-USA.
"There are different products that grow at different rates, and obviously shots have been the fastest growing [segment]. Single serve was slow for a while because people weren’t out and about, but now that the world is opening back up, our single serve business is doing really well," he added.
As consumers sought out more functional food and beverage products, in particular immunity-boosting offerings, during the pandemic, Suja was already in a good position to capture that consumer audience, said DeBorde.
"Consumers were trending towards more cold-pressed juice to begin with, but within the last year the pandemic really accelerated that movement," he said.
"When the pandemic hit, we researched the ingredients that people were looking for the most, which turned out to be vitamin D and zinc."
Taking note of this trend, Suja expanded its wellness shots line to include a vitamin D and zinc 2-ounce shots offering.
"Throughout the last 18 months, we saw many different brands jump into the immunity space or functional space because everyone was trying to attract that consumer. The difference with Suja is this is a company from day one that was built on trust and transparency," added Brennan.
"So when we put on our bottle that it’s an immunity function or a digestion function or vitamin D and zinc, people know that the money they’re spending is being spent on what they think they’re buying."
Product innovation: 'We test and kill quickly'
Suja has spent close to a decade launching a variety of innovative functional beverages into the market, from pressed probiotic-infused waters to drinking vinegars.
And while some did not meet expectations (the company has since dropped both probiotic and drinking vinegars from its portfolio), taking risk through innovation will always be part of Suja's DNA, said Brennan, who noted that the company has innovated over 200 different products.
"You don’t know if you don’t try, and we’ve never been afraid to try. Obviously, we know not all of them can work. We test and kill quickly. If it’s something that’s a market fit, we lean in quickly, if it’s something that doesn’t make sense for Suja, and it’s not working, we kill it quickly," said Brennan.
"We have whittled a lot of our products down. We’ve become much better at trying things out, determining if they work or not and then scaling them vs. staying in things that don’t have staying power," added DeBorde.
"We’ve really found that our sweet spot is digestive type products, immunity products, and green juices."
One area that has worked very well and is the fastest-growing segment in its portfolio has been the brand's wellness shots range, an area of the business that has provided easy entry for new consumers to the functional beverage category, according to DeBorde.
"It’s a quick way for a new consumer to get in a functional hit," said DeBorde.
"5-Hour Energy shot did a great job of building the category, but we have a lot more occasions than just energy," he noted, adding that the company can innovate and pivot quickly to address evolving consumer demands.
'We have many, many growth opportunities ahead'
As a brand that's already distributed in at least 25,000 stores, what's in store for the company now that it has new ownership?
According to DeBorde, despite its already broad distribution footprint, there are several areas for additional runway for the Suja brand.
"We have many, many growth opportunities ahead. There are still a lot of large accounts we’re not in. There are still a lot of channels we’re not in, and our e-comm business is exploding with growth now," said DeBorde.
"We still have a lot of development in the foodservice space as well."
Brennan added that Paine Schwartz will be keeping the Suja team intact and allowing the brand to operate to a large degree as it always has for the past decade.
"We’ll be leaning into things like marketing, which I think is probably the biggest opportunity for Suja as we move forward. Investing into that and investing into CapEx (capital expenditure), and allowing the team to innovate and be nimble and be on trend with different ingredients," sad Brennan.