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First Beverage Makes Foray into Cold-Pressed Realm via SF’s Project Juice

Beverage Business INSIGHTS:

Cold-pressed juice as coming megatrend? First Beverage Ventures has lent its imprimatur to notion by taking minority stake in year-old, SF-based Project Juice, one of growing array of high-pressure processing (HPP) players that are building network of retail stores along lines of, say, Organic Avenue in NY. Project Juice was founded by husband-and-wife team of Rachel and Greg Malsin (occupational therapist and investment banker, respectively) and their partner and investor Devon Briger. It produces in own facility in South SF, sourcing most ingredients from within 150 miles of SF to justify on-bottle promise that items are “Local. Cold-Pressed. Raw.” Items that must be sourced from further away are still verified as organic. Co’s lineup includes range of cleanses, cold-press juices and “nut mylks” under names like Dr Green Plus, Clean Green, Jala-Greeno, Beta Bomb and almond-based Mint Chip Shake and Turmeric Mylk. It also plays in cold-brewed coffee via Get Up & Go-Go sku. So far, it’s opened store in Financial District, with Russian Hill and Palo Alto units on way in coming weeks, and is also served at simpatico retailers such as Fuel Café within downtown Equinox Gym, new coffee shop in Berkeley and Rainbow Grocery. Malsins hope to be operating 5 locations within year.

Founding trio – all ex-New Yorkers – bring interesting mix of backgrounds to project. Rachel Malsin has struggled with food allergies all her life and claims obsession with juice since age 16, flocking to pioneering juice presser Liquiteria in city. As occupational therapist working with autistic kids she focused on nutrition. Husband Greg comes from consumer investment banking at Piper Jaffray and Stockton Rd Capital. Briger, returning to career from mommy break, brings sales expertise from Microsoft, Starbucks and Kraft.

First Beverage partner Tom First told BBI that investment culminated search that probably put him in direct contact with 6 or 7 cold-press players as his team sought to understand dynamics of category: how reliant it is on cleanse function, how consumers are engaged, relative potential of retail, wholesale and e-commerce approaches. (Their conclusion: cleanse function is good “on-boarding” mechanism that draws some consumers into cold-press category, but their investment is not necessarily a bet that cleansing will be huge trend 5 years from now.) Of course, as delicate-to-produce refrigerated item that carries superpremium pricetag, Project Juice resembles First Beverage’s most recent investment, in LA-based kombucha player Health-Ade, and represents gamble by investor that these sectors will be able to effectively scale up to national scope. Bill Anderson, founder of First Beverage Group, comes out of beer distribution sector, and team boasts deep expertise in production and distribution in consulting arm. Nantucket Nectars co-creator First, who’s taken hands-on role at First Beverage’s Purity Organic and Health-Ade investments, said that expertise will be on tap as needed by Project Juice, but stressed that co’s investments represent bet on capability of strong founders to handle challenges of building their businesses. To First Beverage, Project Juice offered “3 outstanding founders and an incredible platform for innovation.” As with Health-Ade, it was vital the product itself be “incredible,” he noted. He hinted also that some cold-press players that had come up on First Beverage’s radar were ruled out in part because they seemed to take cavalier approach to brand promises of raw, cold-pressed, etc. Particularly in environment like SF, he said, there’s no wiggle room to compromise on these fundamental issues.

As for brand name, co’s Web site at notes: “We think of many things in life as ‘projects.’ A project to start eating better, to start exercising more often, to start spending more time doing the things we love. Project Juice is a personal project to incorporate cold-pressed juice into our everyday routines.”