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Return of the Liquid Lunch

With its entry into the ultratrendy juice market, Starbucks aims to have Americans sipping their salads in no time

Author ALYSSA GIACOBBE

REUTERS/ANTHONY BOLANTE/LANDOV

LOCATED ABOUT 20 MINUTES from downtown Seattle, the Bellevue Square mall is a study in Pacific Northwest posh. The shops are upscale; the clientele is overwhelmingly sporty, blond, female. On the mall’s ground floor, two women enter the juice bar Evolution Fresh. The kid at the counter greets them, asking—with an earnestness befitting his position as a “juice tender”—where they are on their “juicing journey.” Behind him there’s a digital display listing today’s “on tap” selections (such as Coconut Zen, a blend of coconut water, cucumber juice and pineapple juice) that can be poured as is or custom-blended. The blondes opt for Bit-a-Green (greens, cucumber, ginger, apple) in the 16-ounce size, fork over a whopping $8 apiece and rejoin the throng coursing through the mall.

Eight dollars for juice may sound outlandish, but the Bellevue Square sippers seem happy enough to hand it over. Though everyday juice has fallen out of fashion in the post-Atkins years as being too low in nutrients to be worth the calories, premium juice—pasteurized minimally or not at all, and preservative-free—has caught on among Americans obsessed with all things organic and unadulterated, eager to claim the promised benefits of a diet unencumbered by solids. Gwyneth Paltrow juices. So does Steven Spielberg. At the moment, natural juices represent a $1.6 billion market—sizable enough to attract coffee giant Starbucks, whose recent acquisition of Evolution Fresh represents the biggest bet it’s made in years.

The move came about after Starbucks baristas across the U.S. began reporting a shift away from the double-caf, double-whip, extra-caramel craze of yore. Customers increasingly wanted nutritional info and healthier options, like yogurt and the veggie box; Facebook groups cropped up demanding Starbucks start offering almond milk. At the same time, the company’s once-dazzling growth stalled. Nine hundred stores closed in 2008, after a decade of declining shares and consumer interest. The writing was on the wall. “Our customers wanted a better lifestyle,” says Chris Bruzzo, senior vice president for Starbucks and Evolution Fresh.

So Starbucks executives began looking into juice. CEO Howard Schultz was spotted repeatedly staking out New York City juice bars like Liquiteria and The Juice Press in the hopes of poaching ideas, maybe even employees. But fresh juicing requires serious amounts of produce. It’s messy and expensive, and the product spoils quickly (since using preservatives or full conventional pasteurization would kill nutrients and thus defeat the point). Pulling it off on a large scale seemed prohibitively difficult.

That’s when Schultz found Jimmy Rosenberg. The juice business vet—who made a mint selling his share of Naked Juice to Pepsi—had founded Evolution Fresh, the first U.S. juicery to use high-pressure processing (HPP), a method of pasteurizing with pressure instead of nutrient-destroying heat. HPP made premium juice mass-marketable for the first time ever, says Bruzzo, letting Evolution Fresh sell juice that’s preservative-free but still stays fresh for up to 40 days—weeks longer than something you’d get out of your at-home juicer, or at smaller juiceries. Recon concluded, Schultz bought the California-based company last November for $30 million, rebranded it with a cleaner logo and opened the new brand’s first juicery in an old Starbucks location in Bellevue Square.

Evolution Fresh doesn’t have a lock on HPP, which has been adopted by Blueprint and other brands. The difference is that Evolution Fresh has Starbucks, with guaranteed distribution in the chain’s nearly 17,000 stores worldwide, existing deals with thousands of supermarkets and natural-food stores, and a reputation for good customer service. Beyond adding the cute new logo and fresh-faced juice tenders, Evolution Fresh has done away with noisy juicing apparatus: All juice is pressed at the company’s plant in San Bernardino, Calif. The juice isn’t organic, which will inspire controversy in hardline circles, but Bruzzo says the brand has introduced a limited line of organic juices, with more to follow.

Of course, Evolution Fresh isn’t for the avant-garde. It’s for the mainstream, those at the beginning of their, um, juicing journeys, who perhaps feel more comfortable with what lies between Tropicana and something that just moments ago was a few leaves of kale and an orange—a piece of territory currently dominated by the 700-store-strong Jamba Juice. “This is an incredible opportunity for Evolution Fresh to make pure, nutritious, natural foods and drinks more accessible for customers,” Bruzzo says. “And we’re only just getting started.”

And what of the competition, those little juiceries that have been carrying the flag in relative obscurity for so long? Are they worried about Starbucks bigfooting them on their own turf? According to Hayden Slater, who owns L.A. mini-chain Pressed Juicery, it may crowd the market but it’s good for the movement. “I’m excited,” he says. “I mean, as a small-business owner I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by the idea of Starbucks coming in. But I think it’s only going to bring more awareness to the community.”

Slater has no problem with marketing juice to the masses—it’s something he hopes to one day do himself. “At the end of the day, this isn’t rocket science,” he says. “It’s fruits and vegetables we’re talking about.”

ALYSSA GIACOBBE takes her green juice with a vodka chaser.

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THIS MONTH’S AMAZING FACT

GOING MY WAY?
To stay happily married, try moving in the same direction

A recent study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong reports that there’s more to marital bliss than sharing life goals and dishwashing duties. Spouses who travel in the same direction to work, regardless of route taken or whether they actually travel together, report being more satisfied with each other than those who don’t. What’s more, the scientists found that even randomly paired strangers who traveled in the same direction to an experiment room reported greater attraction to each other than those who traveled in opposite directions.

As unlikely as the effect may sound, it stems from the idea that people create visual representations of goals, and that those visual representations are connected to related concepts in the brain. Thus, just walking in the same direction might make you remember the goal of “moving in the same direction,” resulting in a better marriage. Following your significant other around the house muttering about the dishes, however: still a bad idea. —JACQUELINE DETWILER

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