The Philadelphia-based company – best known for Jin+Ja - a non-carbonated beverage made from fresh ginger, cayenne pepper, lemon, mint, green tea, and cane sugar, generated revenues of $500k in 2015, $2m in 2016 and is projected to generate $4.5m in 2017, founder Reuben Canada told FoodNavigator-USA.
But it was only when he started ramping up online sales that he learned who his core customers really were, and it was a revelation, said Canada, an electrical engineer-turned patent attorney, turned beverage entrepreneur.
“Up until the end of 2015 the huge majority of our sales were through bricks and mortar stores, but I read an article about a water brand generating 20% of its revenues from direct to consumer sales and I thought why not experiment with this, and the results were almost immediate.
"Now the majority of our business is direct to consumer and 65% of our [online] customers are on subscription [opting to subscribe and save 25%, and receive deliveries every two or four weeks]."
Who is my customer?
He added: “When your customer is the retailer, not the consumer, you don’t actually know who is buying your products, or how much they are buying. Now we know.”
The biggest revelation from selling his wares online was learning that hardcore fans of Jin + Ja were not affluent young kombucha-drinking Millennials, as he had initially assumed, he said.
“We discovered that our core consumers are around 67 years old, making between 50-100k a year, and they like Steve Harvey, Dr Phil and Joel Osteen. Now I actually see who my customers really are. I know what they are interested in. It’s totally changed the way we think about the product and how we communicate.
“Now when I am thinking about social media and facebook live videos, I focus less on the product and more about sharing some of the wisdom that I’ve gathered over my life, and having a more intimate relationship with my customers, because it [Jin + Ja] really has changed some people’s lives.”
The new Super Greens powder – while not an obvious adjacency for a beverage brand – is going after consumers that are interested in wellness – not the next big ‘thing’ in nutrition, said Canada, who said he wasn’t interested in bringing out another protein powder, given that most Americans are not short of this macronutrient: “I was watching a documentary the other day and a doctor said something like I’ve never seen anyone come in here with a protein deficiency. I thought that was so funny!
“For me it was just about putting all the things I like to put into a smoothie in a format that isn’t messy. It’s not about the latest greatest sexy ingredient. If my grandmother wouldn’t eat it, then I wouldn’t eat it."
Reuben Canada’s eureka moment was less of a ‘a-ha’ moment than a dawning realization in late 2009, early 2010, that the cocktail mixer he was brewing up in his kitchen after work and impressing his friends with could open up a new career opportunity.
As most co-manufacturers either won’t deal with you - or want a hefty minimum order volume for the first production run - Canada was able to scale up in a cost-effective way in 2011 and 2012 before he was ready to ‘graduate’ to a larger facility in 2013 by producing Jin+Ja at Bridgeton, NJ-based food incubator the Rutgers Food Innovation Center
After putting Jin+Ja into potion bottles he bought online, he started giving away samples, and was blown away by the response. By spring 2010, the tiny bottles were selling like hotcakes at his local grocery store and he realized that this could potentially become the day job.
Glass wasn’t very practical
On the packaging front, meanwhile, things really began to take off once after the brand introduced 12oz and 32oz PET SKUs, as it became clear that the original glass packaging was holding it back, he said.
“We started in glass bottles – 6.3oz and 25.3oz - and those went into Whole Foods first and then into Kroger, but as much as people loved the beautiful aesthetic of the bottles, you can’t put glass bottles in your purse, take them to the gym, and walk around with glass on the go, so we introduced PET for customers that wanted an on the go drink – and right now it’s merchandised in the cold cases in Kroger throughout the country by other functional beverages.
“Because the packaging was cheaper, we didn’t have to increase the price on a per ounce basis when we moved up to 12oz for the smaller bottle, so you are getting a lot more for your money [$3.39-$3.69]
Jin + Ja concentrate: People were making jello with it, using it to make ice cubes and adding it to a Mint Julip, adding it into stir fried vegetables
He added: “We also created a concentrated version, which kind of developed from the fact that when I started I was thinking I’m doing a lot of work to make one gallon of Jin +Ja, I wonder how much I can concentrate this without losing the essence of the product [consumers can just add water later]?
"I found I could condense it down into a 4X concentrate, so I could make four gallons worth of Jin+Ja from one gallon of concentrate.
“And the great thing about the concentrate is not just that it saves space, but that people are also doing new things with it, they’re cooking with it, adding it to club soda and using it in cocktails, where you want the flavor and not the water.
"But people were making jello with it, using it to make ice cubes and adding it to a Mint Julip, adding it into stir fried vegetables and all kinds of things.”