Juicy Business

Jan 29, 2014

Starting a business can be complicated, and you might feel ill-prepared without an MBA, but a Charlottesville woman who has the degree decided not to bother with focus groups or financial analysis. 

Instead, she trusted her gut, and is building a company using common sense.

A couple of years ago, an Australian filmmaker named Joe Cross came to America to make a documentary about his quest for better health.  He called it Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.

“Twenty years ago, this is what  saw when I looked in the mirror.  Looking good!  Well the years rolled by, and I kept seeing that same fit looking bloke looking back at me.  Who was I kidding?  I didn’t look like that anymore.  I looked like I’d swallowed a sheep.”

By drinking only fruit and vegetable juice, Cross claimed to have lost a hundred pounds.  He stopped taking medications, started exercising and spreading the word about this approach to better nutrition.  Plenty of medical experts dismiss juicing, but the film had a following, and it gave a definite bump to the sale of juicers.  This was not lost on Hilary Lewis, who decided to try living only on juice:

“It was only two days, but it was like – I’m never doing this again!”

But as part of a balanced diet, she thought juice was a great choice, and she could see it was taking hold in bigger cities, where financial analysts estimated the market at $1.6 billion.

“In New York City, LA there’s juice bars on every corner, and Starbucks just bought Evolution Fresh and built a $70 million facility in California.”

One day, while shopping at Whole Foods, she noticed a New York brand of cold-pressed, organic juice called Blue Print.  She bought a bottle and took it to show her professors the Darden School of Business, where she was working on an MBA.  

“Put the bottle of Blue Print on their desk and asked them how much did they think that cost, and they said $2.99, $3.99, and I’m like, ‘Nope!  It cost $9.99 for a 16-ounce bottle,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do juice!’

And let’s not bother with focus groups or market research.  Instead, Lewis hit the road for inspiration.

“This summer I went to juice bars in San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, New York City, LA and Austin, Texas, and I learned a lot about the market that way in these juice bars and how they were selling.”

The machine needed to make juice costs $700,000, so Lewis figured she’d open a juice bar to save up for the day she could go wholesale, but then she learned it was possible to lease a machine, and the rest is history.  With a staff of four, she launched LUMI – an acronym for Love You, Mean It.  

 Partnering with a local distributor of food from area farms and kitchens, she got the product into grocery stores in Charlottesville, Richmond, Roanoke and Washington, DC.  Brainstorming with investors, she came up with eight different flavors, including Wahoo Orange, Piedmont Pineapple, Belmont Beet, Miami Mango and Farmhouse Greens.  

The process of launching LUMI was, she says, exhausting, but an occasional bottle of juice kept her going, and in her first two weeks of business, she grossed $10,000.  The only problem now – what to do with all the pulp, so she’s hoping to find an organic pig farmer or baker who could make use of what’s left when the juicing is done.