Americans are finally eating their vegetables—in a bottle.
Premium, cold-pressed raw juices made from a veritable salad bar of ingredients are the consumer’s new main squeeze. Across the country, juice bars are popping up on every corner, and chefs and restaurateurs are offering fresh twists on the standard fruit and vegetable concoctions.
“At the bar, we’re making juices like cocktails with really vibrant flavors, cool herbal infusions and rare or exotic produce,” she says. “We want every single juice to not only be beautiful and nutritious, but to have that quality of ‘I can’t stop drinking it.’ This is a great advantage to standing out in the market.”
At The Butcher’s Daughter juice bar and café in New York, owner Heather Tierney brings the same creativity to her business as chefs infuse into their food.
Health-conscious consumers and affluent millennials are fueling the juice trend, sipping a rainbow of produce as a way to lose weight, boost immunity, cleanse their systems or simply incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet.
Sales at U.S. juice bars and smoothie chains are showing continuous growth, topping $2 billion in 2012, nearly doubling since 2004, according to Juice Gallery Multimedia, a firm that tracks the foodservice industry.
This new crop of healthy cocktails is mostly made via cold press, a process that extracts juice by first crushing and then pressing fruit and vegetables for the highest juice yield. Because the process doesn’t produce heat, it keeps more nutrients intact. Since fresh juices are unpasteurized, customers need to drink up within a few days.
“Cold-pressed juices are not likely to outgrow the rest of the juice category but there is tremendous consumer demand for healthy, natural products,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a foodservice research firm. “We’re in the very early stages of growth in the life cycle curve and it’s evolving very quickly,” he says. “We’ll see significant growth over the next few years. The perception is that it’s better for you, and that’s going to guide most consumers.”
But the juice habit isn’t cheap.
A 16-ounce drink, made without fillers like water, ice or a dairy base, can range from $6 to $12 or more. Juice bar owners say juicing is labor intensive and that food costs are higher because organic produce tends to be costlier than its conventional counterparts. In addition, raw juice has a short shelf life and owners must comply with strict sanitary guidelines to ensure quality and safety.
“There’s almost a grocery bag full of produce that goes into every cup,” says Robert Larkin, co-founder of Daily Juice, which opened in Austin in 2003 and now has three area locations serving juices, smoothies and salads. “There can be some sticker shock if you don’t understand that.”
Larkin says his business operates at “slightly slimmer” margins than a typical restaurant. To capitalize on growth, the company began franchising and recently redesigned its shops using reclaimed woods and recycled materials. His goal is to bring cold-pressed juices to underserved markets in the southern and central United States. So far, he has 21 franchise agreements in hand and expects Daily Juice to grow beyond Texas in 2015.
“When we started, we had almost a cultish following,” he says. “Now we want it to be comfortable for anyone: regular juicers, people who have just heard about it and those passing by who decide to give it a try.”
Chicago-based writer Monica Ginsburg is hooked on the Greenberry (kale, lime, apple, strawberry and cilantro) from Protein Bar.
Squeeze fresh juice into big business. Here are four tips to ride the juice wave:
1. Keep the menu simple: Produce spoils quickly and customers new to cold-pressed juices may be intimated by all-green concoctions. “Our best seller is the Easy Green, with cucumbers, kale, apple and lemon,” says Amy Waldman, founder of Puree Artisan Juice Bar, with two Bethesda, Md., locations and a busy delivery service. “People like to start with something familiar, then they’ll often branch out.”
2. Merchandise products: Package juice in attractive bottles to show off its vibrant colors. Highlight the health benefits and, if produce is organic or locally sourced, include background on the farm.
3. Educate customers: Provide knowledge about the product, “This can be the difference of them being loyal to your brand or trying someone else,” says Robert Larkin, co-founder of Austin’s Daily Juice.
4. Be sure it’s a fit: “Unless you love juice or your main focus is health foods, you’re better off not to go down this road,” says Matthew Sherman, owner of three Jugofresh juice and smoothie shops in Miami and four more opening this year. “It’s a very labor-intensive business and does not lend itself well to sitting by Coke bottles,” he says. “My brother has a deli in Maryland and was thinking of adding juices. I told him to focus on making the best sandwich he could make instead.”
The New Liquid Lunch
Cucumber cocktails, superfood smoothies and other nutrient-packed nectars are sprouting up at juiceterias across the country. Chug these cold-crafted combos:
Hangover Killer: pineapple, cilantro, chile,Thai coconut, evening primrose oil, yuzu, $9
The Ashram: grapefruit, lemon, turmeric, cayenne, honey, $9
Natural Gatorade: cucumber, celery, lemon, lime, $7.95
Xtra Holla Pain Yo!: jalapeño, garlic, carrot, orange, cilantro, lime, salt, $7.50
Banana Manna Shake: cold-pressed juice with vegan “ice cream” (bananas, almonds, cacao or sunflower seeds), $6.50 to $9.50
Spiced Yam: garnet yam, carrot, red apple, cinnamon, ginger, $9
Garden of Vegan: kale, beets, collard greens,cabbage, red pepper, tomato, lemon, ginger, apple cider vinegar, cayenne, $10