Juice It Up CEO Finds the Right Ingredients to Survive in Crowded Industry
Juice It Up CEO Finds the Right Ingredients to Survive in Crowded Industry

For Juice It Up, success is all about listening to the customer.

Back in 1995, the smoothie industry was in its infancy.

That’s when two long-time friends decided it was time to leave behind their jobs in the corporate world to pursue a much more fulfilling career. Intrigued by the idea of opening their own business, the duo turned to the emerging health-food concept of freshly-blended, real-fruit smoothie stores. That year, when they opened the first Juice It Up in Southern California, they became the pioneers of a soon-to-be booming concept.

It wasn’t long until Juice It Up grew in popularity. In the late 90s, they brought on Frank Easterbrook as their CEO, who previously worked in the food industry as an executive for Nestle and M&M/Mars. At Juice It Up, he helped to propel the brand forward by creating and refining the type of quality, consistency and transparency that the brand is known for today. By 2008, the chain had evolved into one of the top smoothie brands out of California, following closely behind Jamba Juice and Robeks with 189 locations. People from all over the region fell in love with Juice It Up’s delicious blends of fruit and non-fat yogurt—a product that decidedly epitomized the California lifestyle at the time.

Then, just as Juice It Up was seemingly on the cusp of industry-wide domination, the recession hit. Hundreds of businesses were left reeling. Discretionary spending of consumers slowed to a trickle. With less money to cover bills and groceries, many households could no longer afford trips to the ice cream parlor or smoothie shop. It didn’t take long before Juice It Up felt the pinch, too.

“As people lost their jobs, they stopped purchasing discretionary products, like things that were considered treats,” Easterbrook said. “Items like smoothies were just not being purchased at the level they were prior to the recession.”

Over the next three years, the chain closed 79 locations and the company focused on helping the mostly-franchised chain survive. For Easterbook, this included tweaking the very concept that Juice It Up was founded on. That meant putting a greater emphasis on raw juices—something that Easterbook viewed as a lifestyle product rather than the occasional treat.

But this wasn’t the first time that Juice It Up introduced raw juices to its menu. Back in 2004, the brand introduced a line called “Healthy Ways,’ which featured fruit-based juices. The brand invested in a marketing and advertising program to generate interest, but Easterbrook quickly realized that consumers simply weren’t ready to let go of their beloved smoothies in favor of raw juices.

“It just wasn’t the right timing for that kind of concept. And unfortunately we found out the hard way the first time around,” Easterbook said. “It’s so important to listen to your customers. They’re the ones who are feeding your company. We put this product out the first time because we thought it was right—but it wasn’t what customers were asking for. We had to take a step back and really listen to what they wanted.”

In 2011, in an effort to revitalize the recession-stricken brand, Easterbrook reintroduced a line of raw juices—but this time, he went about it differently.

“I learned a long time ago from a marketing class that you can’t force a customer to try something they don’t like. This time, we did a lot of research. We had focus groups and we asked them what they wanted, what flavors they craved, what prices they expected, and more. We looked at industry reports and the competition,” Easterbrook said. “This time, we were confident we could successfully launch a new product line and reposition our brand as a raw juice concept—not just a smoothie place.”

Within two years of the raw juice repositioning, Juice It Up saw a sales increase of nearly 50 percent. The brand rolled out an innovative new store design—one that boasted transparency by having the fruit, vegetables and juicing machines out front for the customers to see. Customization also became a crucial part of the menu, giving customers the opportunity to choose the vegetables, fruits and add-ins they want. And Juice It Up even rolled out a line of super-fruit acai or pitaya bowls and smoothie bowls—another in-demand product.

“Being a brand that has gone through our share of ups and downs and major economic downturns, we’ve come to understand how decisions impact us down the road. We’re lucky in that it’s helped us develop a strong sense of hindsight and foresight,” Easterbrook. “What I do know today is that our market and our industry is projected to grow in the years to come. We have to continue to listen to customers’ wants and needs. We’re committed to that path. We’re not going away any time soon—we’re only going to keep growing. If we can prove to our consumers that they can continue to trust us—that we’ll always be committed to putting out wholesome ingredients—they’ll believe in us, even as we evolve alongside the changing industry.”