At CROP Juice It Is All About Quality Over Quantity

By Laura Finaldi Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Six years ago oncology nurse/fitness instructor Karen Odierna founded CROP Juice -- short for "cold-pressed raw organic produce." 

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

Not too long after trying cold pressed juice for the first time, Karen Odierna had a kind of crazy idea.

She wanted to start a juicing business, but not one where the product would be mass-produced and quantity would be emphasized over quality. She wanted it to be vegan, gluten free, served in glass bottles and made with organic produce 100% of the time -- not just when available.

It was a big risk for the oncology nurse, fitness instructor and self-proclaimed "sugar addict" who was only able to kick her sweets habit after introducing cold-pressed juice into her diet.

But it was a risk that she and her now-fiancee Keith Campbell were willing to take in 2013.

More than six years later, the business they founded, CROP Juice -- short for "cold-pressed raw organic produce" -- has three locations, and sells things like smoothies, juice shots, acai bowls, salads, donuts and more, in addition to their signature cold-pressed juices.

CROP Juice's newest location is in the works for 2480 Stickney Point Road. It will be a relocation of the company's Gulf Gate retail store.

Odierna is a lifelong juicer, and has always been health conscious. Before she discovered cold-pressed juice, she and Campbell were using a Vitamix to make juices at home. But it wasn't until a friend, who had received a breast cancer diagnosis around that time, introduced her to cold-pressed juice that she became inspired to make it her business.

She started playing around with different concoctions at home -- Campbell was her first test subject -- and within six months they were building out their first location in Gulf Gate.

Typically, juice companies make the product in big batches, where they make a recipe for a small yield of leafy greens, she said. The finished product might look green, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there are a lot of greens in there, she said.

They didn't want to be an $8 juice bar, she said. They wanted to be premier and cold press their leafy greens.

"If you're a juicer, you know it takes a lot of leafy greens to make a little bit of juice, and that's where the cost comes in. We juice leafy greens separately, and we hand pour," Odierna said. "If we do a batch of 50 juices, we have to go along the line to do three ounces of leafy greens, then we'll hand pour the ginger. Then we'll hand pour the lemon lime. So, it's not the big batch juicing mentality that most companies have."

One of the biggest challenges has been educating customers about what exactly it is that they're buying. If employees can't tell people what they're buying and why it costs what it costs, customers won't understand why the juice costs between $11 and $14 depending on the amount of organic leafy greens, Campbell said.

"Our customers now come in knowing we vetted it and they don't challenge us anymore, whereas they challenged us all the time early on," he said. "[Odierna] and I talked to probably the first 10,000 people that walked through the doors."

Odierna just quit her nursing job two months ago. She's been working two full-time jobs for the past six years and she and Campbell both work about 70-80 hours a week.

But for them, it was never about the money. They were willing to fail.

"When we opened it was for the sake of doing the right thing. We figured that if we did the right thing by our customers, we'd end up in a good place down the road. But believe me, it's been a long grind for six years," Odierna said.

That mentality of doing right by the community is one of the things fellow entrepreneur Sharon Juraszek said she admires about Odierna and the business she's created. Juraszek owns Fermentlicious, a Sarasota-based organic and probiotic company that makes varieties of sauerkraut and vegan kimchi and sells her product at CROP Juice stores.

She said that there's a lot of demand for organic products like the ones CROP Juice and Fermentlicious make in Sarasota, because some people move here in the first place to live a healthier lifestyle.

"I think it just speaks to what's happening in the whole foods movement. Food is sexy, food is trendy, because as people start to uncover different health issues, reexamining why this is happening," Juraszek said. "Karen is providing organic product that's high quality, in a vessel that is sustainable to the planet."

CROP's next chapter Today, CROP Juice has three locations -- 2320 Gulf Gate Drive, 8211 Tourist Center Drive in University Town Center and 1605 Main St. in downtown Sarasota.

They plan to expand into the space right next to their current University juice bar, a move that will add about 20 seats to the shop. This will allow them to try a new fast-casual dining menu, including bowls made-to-order.

That shop will serve as a test kitchen for Stickney Point, which Odierna and Campbell said they hope will open by spring. Stickney Point, a relocation of the retail aspect of the Gulf Gate store, will have a pick-up window, where people can grab orders they've placed ahead of time without ever getting out of their cars.

It's possible that the fast-casual dining might eventually make its way to Stickney Point, but the focus at first will be on getting things open, Campbell said.

CROP Juice has a total of about 40 employees. Since the company is well known in the area now and has cultivated a loyal employee base and reputation, it's been easier to find the right talent, he said.

"We worked very very hard to get the team that we have, and we're finally at the point now where we feel like we can open these other stores and have the support of people who work hard and are on the same mission," Campbell said.

That mission is what Odierna said kept her going and determined to start her business, even though many people told her it would never work the way she wanted to do it.

"I wouldn't take no for an answer. I kept coming back [saying] 'no we've gotta do this. People need us, we're all on the caffeine ups and downs and the sugar highs and lows.' We just knew it was something we needed to share with Sarasota." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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