by Sally Colby
Cullen Farrell and Kyle Ober are passionate about ingredients because the best ingredients make the best juice.
Co-founders of rijuice in Lancaster, PA, Farrell and Ober are enjoying success with a product they developed with a healthy mix of a dream and passion in the basement of a local bar three years ago. The first juice was a blend of apple, lemon and ginger, which is still popular today as Sunshine Daydream.
Rijuice, pronounced ‘re-juice’, was named for ‘Ri’, the Gaelic word for king. And that’s what Farrell and Ober intend to do — create the king of juices.
While developing Sunshine Daydream, Farrell and Ober worked carefully, adding ingredients one-half ounce at a time; testing various ratios and asking bar patrons to taste-test their experimental blends. “A lot of people had never tasted fresh apple juice, let alone fresh ginger juice,” said Ober, adding there was a lot of trial and error involved in product development. “Then we looked at different apple varieties that might affect the color or flavor in different ways. We’re still learning — we aren’t even close to mastering recipes.”
The men soon saw their product was not only saleable but in demand. As they worked on new flavor blends, they knew they needed better production space. Today, rijuice is housed in a section of a state-of-the-art facility constructed by Lancaster Farm Fresh, the largest CSA on the east coast. The partnership turns out to be beneficial for both sides.
Farrell and Ober knew Lancaster County had some of the best, non-irrigated soils in the country, and with access to fresh organic produce from more than 110 local farmers the partnership with Lancaster Farm Fresh was a perfect fit. “If we wanted to create a company that focused on sourcing agricultural goods, we’re going to find the right people here,” said Ober. “We didn’t know the right people at first, but as soon as we put ourselves out there, the right people started to come around.”
Ober estimates about 70 to 80 percent of the ingredients used in the fresh, cold-pressed juices are grown in Lancaster County. Fruits such as citrus and pineapple are sourced from Four Seasons, a large local organic supplier. Ober says people are much more health-conscious now and they appreciate locally sourced produce as well as flavorful drinks. “It was an initiative to get good vegetables into people, just as much as it was to make a good beverage product,” he said, adding Farrell wanted health to be one of the major goals while developing beverages. “Greens were the first priority.”
One of the most abundant ingredients is kale, which grows year-round in the area. A big seller for rijuice is A Million Bucks, a blend of apple, spinach, kale and lemon. “We go through a lot of kale,” said Ober. “Our partnership with Lancaster Farm Fresh gives us the opportunity to say ‘this is how much we need at this price point’ and they can make that happen competitively.”
After working with around 100 experimental blends, six rijuice flavors are available for retail and wholesale. With a strong retail presence at Lancaster Central Market, rijuice is sold directly to customers and also offers new blends and flavors. The juice sold at this market is raw without any processing. “Every Friday and Saturday we roll out one to four new recipes,” said Ober. “We don’t have to include detailed nutritional information on every label for juice sold directly to consumers — only for wholesale. We make it the night before we sell it, and it has a shelf life date on it. The juices we wholesale are pasteurized and they have a 30-day shelf life from the day they’re processed.” Juice which will be sold via wholesale accounts undergoes a HPP (high-pressure pascalization) pasteurization process which stabilizes the juices and extends the shelf life significantly.
Ober says the rijuice business model of creating new flavors and offering them fresh at the market allows them to bring in new customers, compared to a larger competitor who is always striving for a larger wholesale market in consumer packaged goods. “We have more of a relationship with the people around us and the local environment, and we’re the crafters of juice,” he said. “We can get immediate feedback that’s really valuable.” Rijuice is also in several area bars where it’s being featured as a mixer, and the company is working with grocery stores to bring a larger family size and food service size bottle to the market.
Cold pressed juice means juice that comes directly from fresh produce through a process which allows nutrients and flavors to come forth. Minimal heat and air is introduced during cold pressing, which preserves the quality of the juice. Pressing slowly at about 1,700 psi extracts all the good from fruits and vegetables without too much pressure which can lead to bitterness. The press can handle about 20 gallons per hour. Juice is bottled immediately after pressing to preserve maximum nutritional content and flavor. The bottles are plain with a clear, unfussy label which was debated quite a bit before a final design was determined. The yellow cap was purposely chosen to stand out and draw attention.
“We’re pressing fresh and it’s being sold within 30 days at the longest, and it has to be refrigerated,” said Farrell. “There’s no temperature change that would be causing the plastic to leach into the juice.” Health-conscious customers are interested in the fact there’s roughly a pound of produce in each 10-ounce bottle of juice. Because of the availability of ingredients, some juices are made with local ingredients which are not certified organic — and that’s okay with customers who are primarily interested in the fact the juice is made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Raw juice is available at the Central Market and at special events. Farrell and Ober go to the market themselves, which they believe is important to foster good relationships with customers. Although raw juice has a shorter shelf life of three to four days, rijuice’s standard raw options, along with several experimental juices, provide a means for Ober and Farrell to experiment and offer interesting flavor combinations to fresh juice aficionados.
Farrell says Lancaster is becoming the Silicon Valley of fresh food. “It’s already growing here abundantly and people are focused on it,” he said. “Lancaster Farm Fresh did all of this infrastructure that we would have had to put in ourselves. They do a good job of sourcing for us.”
Although the beverage is a health product which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, the main focus is to provide a pleasant sensory experience for the consumer. “We’re doing the full spectrum, from citrus to as green as you could possibly get,” said Farrell. “There’s a juice for everyone.”
Visit rijuice on Facebook and online at www.rijuice.com.
Life in a bottle
by Sally Colby