Jeff Church, Co-Founder and CEO of Suja Juice, has enjoyed a career of numerous successful entrepreneurial ventures, ranging from a multi-million dollar private equity firm to a socially conscious bottled water company. Jeff brings an extensive background in social entrepreneurship and goodwill to Suja, in addition to expertise in product branding and operations.
How did you get into the beverage industry?
After going on a service trip with my family in 2008, I saw the impact something as small as water- a commodity we in the US take for granted- could have on changing someone’s life. For everything from health to education, helping people gain access to clean water is a lifechanging concept. When we came home from the trip, we started Nika Water, an eco-friendly bottled water company that donated 100% of its profits towards poverty alleviation projects around the world. We wanted people to connect their everyday drinking actions with the health of the entire planet.
Tell us about Suja. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Three years later after some experience within the beverage industry due to Nika, I was introduced to another life changing concept: organic, non-GMO, cold-pressed and high pressure processed. I met Eric Ethans and Annie Lawless through a friend James Brennan. Eric and Annie, a yoga teacher and organic chef, were hand making the juice and delivering it to diehard followers like James. Any green, healthy juice that would get me with my ‘meat and potatoes’ background and my young kids excited was worth looking into. Eric, Annie, James and I began to realize a powerful vision of helping every person transform his or her life through conscious nutrition. And delicious juice was just the ticket for health without the punishment.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to Suja's success?
The beautiful thing about our simple but ambitious mission- to help people transform their lives through conscious nutrition- is that there are some incredible people who are working towards that same goal. We’ve been really fortunate to get to work with some of them, like Whole Foods, on a really deep level. Whole Foods helped us get our initial push, then encouraged us to start our exclusive to Whole Foods Elements line, which opened up more possibilities of getting a healthy juice into the hands of every person. Another deep relationship is with Target, where we were announced as a 2015 “Made to Matter” Brand, which is about identifying healthy, good-for-you-and-the-world brands. We’ve been really impressed and humbled by their dedication to promoting a new generation of great products.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
There’s certainly been a trend towards people being more educated about what they put in their bodies. We try to promote the idea of organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) products. The use of organic products is going up 15% each year, which is an exciting trend for health and the environment. Another trend is towards High Pressure Processing, or HPP, is a method of preserving packaged food products using extremely high pressure. The juices are placed into a hyperbaric chamber filled with cold water, and the chamber is then 87,000 pSi and is held at that pressure for three minutes. This pressure is transmitted through the package into the food itself. The process leads to the elimination of harmful bacteria while maintaining vitamins, minerals and enzymes and preserving a fresher taste We have our own in house HPP machines now, and are definitely seeing a shift of educated consumers towards the HPP market.
What is Suja's Motto?
Live a long, beautiful life.
What is your life Motto?
It’s a tie for two:
-Give a man a fish, feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
-Attitude, Attitude and gratitude
Your greatest success as founder of Suja? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
Just two years ago Suja was essentially a blank canvas, and I’ve had the great fun and privelage of being able to be the artist who brought together all the virbat colors that now are Suja. Being able to build the team has certainly been my greatest success. Within two short years that team has been able to go from zero to $50million in revenue per year. That same growth introduced one of our biggest struggles- scaling the manufacturing- as we make to order every work with volatile demand. We’ve been able to prepare by putting some innovative ordering and manufacturing systems in place.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Opportunity is the meeting of preparation and luck. Startups are not easy- you shouldn’t just want to start a start up or be an entrepreneur for the sake of it. If you do, you likely won’t last or at the very least you won’t be happy. Being an entrepreneur means you are motivated to make the world a better place through something- a product, an experience etc. And you’re so motivated and believe so much in the concept that you are actually willing to dedicate your life to it for anywhere from a few years until, well, forever. So if you think you thrive in an entrepreneurial environment, my biggest piece of advice is to cultivate passion and opportunity. Follow the things you’re curious about, solve the things that cause you and those you care about the most pain. And be ready to see the right need all the way to being solved.
Favorite travel destination?
Chautauqua Lake, New York.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Green Supreme and Vanilla Ice Cream
What literature is on your bed stand?
-The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
-Harvard Business Review
-The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs
-Seven Summits, Dick Bass
-Blessings of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel
Role model - business and personal?
My Mom. Professionally, she was an entrepreneurial teacher who worked to improve the lives of young children and aging adults by combining them in the first intergenerational school. Even more notably, she was an incredibly kind, caring, integrity filled person who taught me what life was really all about.
All things Suja
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
“Where is Your Homework Grade Now?”
What's next for Suja?
Win the juice race! There are a lot of great companies working towards redefining the quality of what we put into our bodies, and we hope to be the primary juice of people who care about healthy drink nutrition and great taste.
As Founder and CEO of Nika Water Company, a five-year old social enterprise that donates 100% of its profits to clean water projects and poverty alleviation around the world, Jeff has made a name for himself as a prominent social entrepreneur and is applying this same, successful approach to business to help grow Suja. In utilizing his vast retail knowledge, Jeff has fostered a strong and strategic relationship with key retailers, including Whole Foods Market, which has led to triple-digit revenue growth and product expansion for Suja. Jeff is also responsible for the groundbreaking launch of Suja Elements, a high-quality, functional refreshment line that uses cold-pressed organic juice, blended fruits and some of the world’s best superfoods, available exclusively at Whole Foods Market.
Prior to founding Nika Water in 2008, Jeff, who holds a MBA from Harvard, Business School founded Autus Capital, a $25 million private equity firm that focuses on acquisitions of middle market manufacturing and distribution companies. Previous to this, Jeff served as president and general manager of various divisions within ERICO, as well as held associate and senior positions at Morgan Stanley and Ernst & Young, respectively.
In 2011, Jeff and his wife Linda completed their first book titled, A Thirst for Change: How Social Entrepreneurship can Solve Societies most Challenging Issues. Jeff speaks regularly to students at colleges and universities including Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley about social entrepreneurship and how sustainability through a triple-bottom line approach is key towards ending societal problems and challenges.