Health conscious Bay area employees get all juiced up on Odwalla products
Health-conscious Bay area employees get all juiced up on Odwalla products
Suddenly it seems fresh juice is big business. More than 5 million home juicing machines were sold in 1992 and “The Juiceman,” Jay Kordich, earned $300 million via juicer sales, best-selling books and speaking engagements. Supermarkets, convenience stores, corner cafes, restaurants and even wholesale warehouses are stocking up on fresh juice.
In Northern California, demand is so high that the leading fresh juice manufacturer, Davenport-based Odwalla Inc., is opening a new 60,000-square-foot plant near Fresno this month. The new facility will quadruple production, ultimately multiplying the company’s current production capacity by 10.
Odwalla’s juice is so hot the multimillion-dollar company has cornered 60 percent of the Northern California market based on relative shelf space. It is enjoying an average growth rate exceeding 50 percent a year.
Odwalla began, rather humbly, in 1980, when Chairman and CEO Greg Steltenpohl and childhood friend Gerry Percy, armed with a $250 juicing machine and a few boxes of oranges a day, squeezed fresh juice in their Santa Cruz garage, delivering it to local restaurants in their Volkswagen vans. Today, the company delivers more than 25,000 gallons of juice, or about 200,000 units, from distribution centers in South San Francisco, Davenport and Sacramento.
Here in Silicon Valley, baby boomers and tech nerds can’t seem to get enough of Odwalla’s line of 24 juices and juice blends. “It’s our largest geographical business unit,” said Mr. Steltenpohl, a 1977 Stanford grad.
He attributes skyrocketing valley sales to the area’s high-stress work and lifestyle that demands a “high-performance” product like fresh juice, and its highly educated consumer base, which is better-informed than the average consumer.
“Living a moment-to-moment existence requires food that provides a sustained energy-release rather than empty calories,” Mr. Steltenpohl said.
Odwalla’s success also is directly related to the overall health and fitness trend in the United States, he said. In California, there’s been a shift, led by Silicon Valley, revolving around “quality of life and having … a wellness attitude,” he said.
In conjunction with these trends, “we have taken the idea of beverages and removed it from being nutritionally superfluous to being nutritionally functional,” Mr. Steltenpohl said.
All juices are not created equal, however. Ninety percent on the market have been heavily processed, according to Mr. Steltenpohl.
But Odwalla’s label reminds consumers that “this juice is fresh. No concentrates. No preservatives. No irradiation. No mumbo jumbo. This juice is food! Drink it and thrive.”
Consuming less processed food puts less stress on the body, said Mr. Steltenpohl, who believes the body was designed to take in food in its whole form.
“I don’t think that’s a wacky idea,” he said. “If you believe in the evolutionary process, surely you can’t believe that the body can adapt to taking in convenience foods in the last 50 years,” he said.
Fresh juices provide enzymes, which act as catalysts in digesting and assimilating nutrients, and antioxidants, which clean up free radicals, or “bad cells,” resulting from pollution. The vitamin content usually is higher in a fresh fruit form, Mr. Steltenpohl said.
“Traditional heat-processing changes the juice chemistry, the flavor balance, the nutritional balance and the aroma,” he explained. “Our philosophy is based on the least amount of processing to get juice into a drinkable form.”
Mr. Steltenpohl disputes the notion that good nutrition has to be a drag.
“Just because it’s a ‘good for you’ product doesn’t mean it can’t be a ‘fun for you’ product,” he said. “The cliche is, it’s tofu and it’s going to taste like cardboard. But ‘good for you’ and ‘fun for you’ can be the same thing.”
That’s why Odwalla has taken a lighthearted approach, offering a host of flavors from “Ambrosia Classic,” described as fruit salad in a bottle, to “Vegetable Cocktail,” an earthy delight made with carrots, beets, celery and parsley.
Freshness also is paramount to Odwalla. Only 48 hours elapse between the time the fruit or vegetable is picked and the juice reaches the consumer, a feat made possible by the company’s unique just-in-time distribution system.
Whole Foods Market Palo Alto, a natural food supermarket that has stocked Odwalla products since it opened in 1989, didn’t think there would be much demand for the fresh juice. “Now it’s one of the only products in dairy that’s delivered seven days a week,” said frozen food buyer Eddie Carmona.
Customers say fresh juice helps with their diet and note its clean, wholesome taste, said Mr. Carmona, who thinks Odwalla’s many flavor choices provide an incentive to stick with a healthy diet.
“Variety is the key to success in this market,” he said.
Mr. Carmona also points to Silicon Valley’s concentration of baby boomers, whom he said “are more open-minded about what they drink and are looking for alternatives.”
Many of the valley’s high-tech companies feature Odwalla in their corporate cafeterias; these firms include Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems, Xerox, Quantum, Oracle, Silicon Graphics, Conner Peripherals and EPRI.
“The generation that gravitated to high-tech tends to be more health conscious … more into jogging, exercise and doing things healthy for their body,” said Linda Gallo, food service manager for Cafe Max restaurant, located at Apple’s Cupertino research and development campus.
It’s even been said that in the days of Steve Jobs, Odwalla was stocked for Apple employees to consume at will, a coveted benefit. Mr. Jobs may be gone, but the juice remains a staple in Apple’s food service operations.
“It’s more of a health-conscious product,” Ms. Gallo said. “It’s totally fresh and (employees) like that. They don’t like the fake stuff. They like the ‘good for you’ drinks.
“Odwalla tastes better,” she observed. “It’s more exciting than (juice) you’re getting out of a bottle that’s been sitting for weeks in storage.”
“It’s very popular, we go through them like crazy,” said Victoria Sousa, manager of Keystone Coffee Store in Downtown San Jose. “It tastes really good and they have off-the-wall flavors.”
Katherine Thornberry is a free-lance writer based in Campbell.