Infatuated with the food culture in his native Lancaster County, Cullen Farrell felt more could be done to pay homage to the vegetable side of the county’s agriculture, instead of the usual focus on food from cows, pigs and other livestock.
He asked himself, “What’s the most of this place that I can put into something?”
The answer came in a bottle.
A few years ago Farrell quit his job as a commodity trader for a Chicago company to make organic, cold-pressed juice.
Now, instead of trading silver and gold, the 27-year-old Farrell is busy making deals with local grocery chains, opening juice stands at midstate farmers markets and expanding his company’s brand.
The juice is cold-pressed, which means it is extracted entirely from fruits and vegetables but has a shorter shelf life than processed juice. The ingredients used in ríjuice include apples, spinach, kale and ginger.
“What is more of a precious commodity than gold and silver? Food is that,” Farrell said.
Farrell rounded up his former college friend, Kyle Ober, and the pair, along with Ross Martin-Wells, and two silent partners, Kevin Gibbons and Keith Ober, own ríjuice (pronounced RE-juice).
Farrell, Kyle Ober and Martin-Wells split leadership responsibilities. They tapped Chef Rafaed Pozzi to help them concoct juice flavors. Pozzi and Martin-Wells were both ríjuice customers asked to join the business because of their skill sets. Martin-Wells is a laser physicist and Pozzi had previous juicing experience.
Founded in 2014, the East Hempfield Township-based company has grown from a retail operation to a wholesaler with revenue rising from about $70,000 the first year to nearly $400,000 in 2016.
It initially made juice in the basement of a downtown restaurant and event venue, Tellus360. It now subleases space at Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-Op’s new facility on Running Pump Road. Lancaster Farm Fresh is a nonprofit organic farmer’s cooperative and it is also a ríjuice distributor.
Most recently ríjuice signed a deal with Warwick Township-based Stauffers of Kissel Hill, which started carrying ríjuice products in February. The partnership also involved adding 32-ounce bottles to ríjuice’s original 10-ounce bottles.
In order to make the larger bottles work, however, ríjuice had to find a way to make them affordable. In short, it had to find cheaper produce, which led Farrell and his colleagues to debate the merits of local versus organic sources.
On one hand, the healthiest food is certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, if the organic product comes from other countries, how do you know it meets the same standards?
In buying local produce that is not necessarily certified organic, ríjuice can visit the farmers and know what it is getting.
Ultimately, the company decided to buy apples that are not certified organic. But they’re grown in Lancaster – at Kauffman’s Fruit Farm in Leacock Township and Hess Brothers Fruit Co. in Warwick Township.
Conversations between ríjuice and Stauffers began in 2015, with Stauffers produce buyer Dave Julian making the first call.
The two companies took time to learn about one another and, after some discussion, decided they were a good fit, Julian said, noting that ríjuice is the only cold-pressed juice available at Stauffers.
At Stauffers ríjuice appears on shelves in the produce department, with flavors selected by the team at the juice maker.
A 10-ounce bottle of organic cold-pressed sells for $5.95, while the conventional, or non-organic cold-pressed, juice sells for $3.99. The 32-ounce container sell for $7.79.
Five flavors of ríjuice’s organic product are available at Stauffers’ Warwick Township and East Hempfield Township stores. Stauffers is also selling the non-organic juices in nine flavors, Julian said.
Stauffers plans to offer non-organic juices at its Oregon Pike store in Manheim Township by the end of April.
Since signing its deal with Stauffers, ríjuice is making an additional 200 to 300 bottles a week, a production increase of about 15 percent to 20 percent. The company has six employees, Farrell said.
This year ríjuice has made about 250 blends of juice flavors, but not all are on sale. The company is experimenting with different flavors at Stauffers. Its goal is to diversify its flavors at other locations, as well.