Processors Adapt To Shifting Demand For Cold-Pressed Juices

Industrial-scale machinery helps clean-label drinks expand beyond juice-bar sales, while processors keep a wary eye open for signs that cold-pressed’s popularity may be waning.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

Cold-pressed juices have been one of the leading lights of the clean label/healthier eating trend, with some observers projecting 10 percent compound annual growth over the next few years.

All trends eventually run their course, though, and observers are wondering if there is another Evolution Fresh or Suja waiting in the wings, or if cold-pressed juicing has crested?

It’s not an academic question for the food processors who have invested in capacity to get those juices onto supermarket shelves and fast-food menu boards. Labor costs with an industrial-scale press are a fraction of those of a juice-bar unit, but they have to be in production long enough to justify the capital outlay.

87P (87p.me), the Carol Stream, Ill., processing arm of Here Holdings in Chicago, has accumulated a baker’s dozen cold presses since 2015. The largest machine, which breaks down chunks of fruit and vegetable before feeding them into a hydraulic press that resembles an accordion, is rated at up to 100 gallons throughput per hour.

Much of the production is dedicated to the Here brand, which sources most raw ingredients from the Great Lakes region. Filling is a bottleneck, although up to 1 million single-serve containers a month could be bottled, far more than demand for Here juices. Entrepreneurs as far away as the West Coast have contracted to fill available production time and have 87P copack cold-pressed juices for them.

87P began operations in 2013. Among its customers was FarmedHere, a 90,000-sq.-ft. hydroponic farm with the ambitious goal of supplying locally grown produce to the metropolitan market year-round. High energy and labor costs forced FarmedHere’s owners to cease operations in January, but they then partnered with 87P to process the products they now sell under the Here label.

“It feels like cold-pressed is still a growing segment,” 87P President Bill Besenhofer says hopefully. “We’re getting more customers from the quick-service area,” restaurateurs who want to sell their own store-branded juices. Nonetheless, 87P is hedging its bets by also processing hummus, veggie dips and salad dressings, with a move into fresh-cut fruit possible next year.

Marwan Moheyeldien is less sanguine about the future of cold-pressed juices. “They’ve gone through their 15 minutes of fame,” says Moheyeldien, CEO of Maryland Packaging Ltd. (marylandpackaging.com) in Elkridge, Md. The big success stories already have been written, he believes, and “the market can’t absorb all the niche products” selling for up to $8.99 per 12 oz. serving.

Refrigerated cold-brewed coffees and teas are the next big thing in trendy beverages, he suggests. Coincidentally, a former executive and current investor in Here jumped into the cold brew space.

High-pressure processing is the common ground between 87P and Maryland Packaging. Except for salad dressing, all of 87P’s finished goods are trucked to Milwaukee for HPP processing by American Pasteurization Co., North America’s first HPP tolling operation. A closer option is Liberty Cold Storage, the 3PL division of protein processor West Liberty Foods. Based in Bolingbrook, Ill., a Chicago suburb 20 miles from 87P, Liberty is expanding its HPP capacity with five additional high-capacity Hiperbaric 525-liter machines.

Maryland Packaging doesn’t rely on tollers: The firm began operating a 100-liter machine from Avure Technologies last year. Avure rates the unit’s potential at 10 million lbs. of pasteurized products a year.

HPP’s role in food safety and clean-label products convinced Moheyeldien that HPP will be a springboard for emerging food companies. To nurture their growth, he is investing $8 million in two Hiperbaric 525-liter machines which will commissioned in a 30,000-sq.-ft. refrigerated warehouse he expects to open in October in nearby Baltimore County, Md. HPP tolling will add 70 jobs for skilled workers earning up to $40 an hour to Maryland’s staff.

“We looked at HPP as a loss leader and wanted to use the first press to help smaller companies,” says Moheyeldien. “Now we’re ready to help graduate micro clients to macro clients. These are the people who are going to be the future Cokes and Pepsis of the food industry.”

Juice processing constitutes 30 percent of his company’s business. Moheyeldien expects preservative-free meats, seafood and prepared meals to dominate production schedules on the new presses, each capable of pasteurizing 7,000 lbs. of finished goods an hour. (Maryland Packaging also offers heat pasteurization and hot-fill services and packaging in MAP or vacuum packs.)

Half a dozen or more entrepreneurs with a food start-up idea or early-stage product beat a path to Moheyeldien’s door every day. Some will succeed, but they need the help of copackers and comanufacturers like Maryland Packaging, which has a product-development kitchen and a FSMA-compliant food safety program in place. Many of those entrepreneurs lack a business plan or a clear understanding of what makes their products unique and who might buy it, yet they are able to attract investors who used to flock to technology start-ups.

“Venture capital in the food industry is a bubble, and it’s going to burst,” he predicts.

Fads also implode and trends end, and companies that provide the enabling processing expertise keep a wary eye out for signs that the end is near. Cold-pressed juices may not account for a major share of 87P or Maryland Packaging’s production in a few years, and management at both firms are on the lookout for new opportunities to serve food companies targeting a fickle and shifting market.

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