“Oh my God,” I caught myself saying, as I put down my first glass of Juicero juice.
The bright green glass of “Sweet Greens” had just been pressed for me by Doug Evans in the San Francisco office of his new startup, Juicero.
And it should taste darn good. The juice came from a WiFi-connected kitchen appliance Evans’ team wants to start selling this summer for about $700 — about at cost. That makes it one of the most expensive juicers in the world, although there are some that retail for more than $1,000. That doesn’t include the necessary juice packets themselves, which sell for between $5 and $7.
Evans, who formerly ran the healthy food chain Organic Avenue, spent 39 months working on a dozen prototypes to build the perfect juicer. His goal was to find a way to make the freshest juice anyone has ever tasted, and rumour has it that celebs like Justin Timberlake to Gwyneth Paltrow tried and enjoyed the results. His startup has raised about $100 million from investors to date.
So, is Juicero juice really all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s what it was like.
Juicero has three big warehouses in the Bay Area. This is the building where most of the 70 full-time employees work, and it's also a factory where Juicero parts are made and tested. It's a pretty crazy operation inside, but I was asked not to take photos of any of the testing facilities.
I walked up one flight of stairs where the employees were stationed to meet Juicero's founder and CEO, Doug Evans. Along the way, there were some strange contraptions lined up against a wall. It turns out they were Juicero prototypes Doug and his team built before landing on the current model. The oldest to newest go from left to right.
Doug worked on Juicero for three years in 'stealth mode' before he publicly launched his juicer in March 2016 with about $100 million in funding from investors. There were 12 prototypes in total.
The Juicero that's currently on sale is about two feet tall, making it a bulky kitchen appliance that will fit on your countertop, but take up a good amount of space.
Here's Doug opening the Juicero box. Buying one of these will cost you $700, but Doug's team is working on bringing down the price. The model is kind of like Tesla, where it launched with a really pricey model then used funds from those sales to figure out a way to create more affordable versions.
Ahhh! The Juicero in all its glory. This isn't just any juicer. It syncs with your home WiFi and smart phone, and it squeezes small pouches of fruits and vegetables into full glasses of juice without requiring you to do any prep or cleanup. Unlike a Keurig, it doesn't make you add water. Just stick in a pouch, press a button, and two minutes later your juice is poured.
The Juicero team sells one-serving pouches -- which are the size of IV bags -- for $5 to $7. Doug decided my first glass of juice should be Sweet Greens.
The app, as well as the bag, tell you exactly what you're about to drink. There's nothing extra added to the pouches, like preservatives or water. It's all just fresh produce the Juicero team has washed, chopped, and packaged itself in one of its San Francisco warehouses. Sweet Greens contained an apple, lemon, kale, spinach and pineapple.
Doug opened one of the bags before we pressed it into juice so I could see, feel, and taste the contents. It tasted pretty good and fresh -- you could probably eat it with a fork and be pretty satisfied.
Each bag has a breathing hole to help the ingredients stay fresh in your fridge. They also have a QR code, which is necessary for the Juicero juicer to work. Juicero wanted to learn from mistakes Keurig has made, and one problem Keurig has said that other companies are making pods for its coffee maker and stealing profits. Juicero's QR codes prevent any other companies from making Juicero-like juice bags for its machine. The machine won't work if it doesn't recognise the product it scans.
The QR code also has safety benefits. If a pouch of food has been sitting too long and may have gone bad, for example, the scanned QR code will alert the Juicero, and the machine won't press the juice. Juicero is also working on biodegradable bags so its pouches won't be harmful for the environment, which is a mistake Keurig made with its plastic pods.
We loaded in Sweet Greens and Doug pushed the only button on the whole machine to start the pressing process.
Here we go! It came out bright and green with zero pulp, even though Sweet Greens has some fibre. One glass of this stuff is just 80 calories.
We shot a video of the Juicero working its magic while Doug explained that every recipe takes a specific amount of time to pour. Sweet Greens takes just over two minutes to make while an unreleased wheatgrass shot Juicero is working on takes less than one minute.
At last, I was ready to take my first sip of Juicero juice. I had high expectations. For all this startup's hype (and the ~$100 million investors have given the company), I was hoping it would taste like nectar from the gods.
And, it was really good! Was it the best thing I've ever consumed? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ But it was sweet tasting and really fresh. I own a juicer, but it doesn't make anything quite this smooth. Doug said his goal for me was to find myself craving the juice the next day, even though I'm not a big sugar fiend. And I actually did -- not enough to go pay him another visit just to get another glass, but I did crave it!
Doug poured a glass of average, store-bought green juice and placed it next to Juicero juice. The difference was obvious. Almost immediately, the store-bought juice began to separate, with cloudy stuff sinking to the bottom requiring you to stir it up. I nursed this glass of Sweet Greens for over an hour while I ate lunch with Evans, and it never started to separate.
Here are the two glasses side by side. As good as the juice was though, Juicero will have some obstacles to overcome beyond its $700 price tag. Sweet Greens (on the left) has 17 grams of sugar, more than half the amount of sugar women are supposed to have in one day (25 grams). Other Juicero products contain less sugar (as little as 2 grams). The war on sugar, which is currently being waged on products like Coke and Gatorade, could prove to be Juicero's biggest problem.
The best thing Juicero has going for it is the fact that there is 0 prep or cleanup process. You just remove the bag and chuck it. Even the spout is on the bag, so you don't have to clean that out either.
Here's what the Juicero looked like right after Doug removed the bag. It was spotless -- not one drop of juice or shredded fruit anywhere.
The contents looked much different than before. There was no moisture at all. I tasted the product and it wasn't nearly as good as the pre-pressed version I had eaten earlier. All the flavour was gone.
For my next drink, Doug whipped up another Juicero recipe, Sweet Roots. This one also had 80 calories per serving and 17 grams of sugar.
Sweet Roots contains carrot, apple, beet, spinach, lemon, celery and ginger. This juice was my favourite one.
For my final drink, Doug had me try the recipe he drinks every morning, Greens. It only has 2 grams of sugar and 25 calories. It was still pretty good, but not sweet like the others. It's made of spinach, celery, romaine, kale, cucumber, and lemon.
So, will Juicero succeed? Or is it just a silly, expensive Silicon Valley toy, like the critics say? I told Doug that if he can get the price down to $200 per machine, I could easily imagine Juiceros on every wedding registry. What's certain is that when you meet Doug, he's sincere and passionate about his product. He set out to make a great product, not a minimum viable version like most startups launch with, and he really believes the Juicero can help everyone be healthier.
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