Beverage industry veteran Greg Steltenpohl has spent his career in the healthful beverage market, founding Odwalla in 1980 in Santa Cruz, CA, with a single line of fresh squeezed orange juice. 21 years later it was sold to Coca-Cola for $180m.
In 2010, Steltenpohl went back to his entrepreneurial roots and became CEO of non-GMO, locally sourced beverage manufacturer Califia Farms, which was founded by the growers of Cuties brand citrus.
He has spent the past three years “working within the system to provide a new growth pathway” for the brand’s citrus juice line. The company has since expanded into almond milk and cold brewed coffee and is emerging into profitability, he says.
“The beverage world is moving so fast and the players are so big. The consolidation and acquisitions and shelf space wars are so intense that I knew launching anything less than a full-line beverage program—one, we wouldn’t get taken seriously by retailers—and two, you need a full line just to defend a brand block nowadays."
But it’s no longer enough to “simply subtract out the bad stuff”, as consumers have a much more complex decision to make at point of purchase, he says. That’s where a combination of the absence of negative plus addition of beneficial ingredients can make beverage a functional (albeit enjoyable) experience for consumers, and something that is considered a healthy part of the diet.
“I don’t mean ‘functionality’ in the way the industry has looked at it before, by adding a bunch of chemicals. That was the old model. The new model is consumers are looking at beverage choice as a food group decision and they’re looking at what are they going to get—or not get, importantly—when they consume that.”