Entrepreneurs of the Week: Juice Hugger

How two Brooklynites turned their passion for healthy food and drinks into a burgeoning business

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Kelly Keelo and Carl Foster, Owners of Juice Hugger pose with their juices.

Juice Hugger owners Kelly Keelo and Carl Foster

As Americans become more aware of alarming obesity rates and increased instances of diabetes, many are making more conscious food choices and the food industry has taken notice. Health and wellness is a booming business, and within it, a trend is emerging: juicing. Juicing is exactly what it sounds like: fruits and vegetables pressed to a liquid and many are turning to it for detoxing, weight loss and just incorporating much needed fruits and vegetables into their diets.

Witnesses to the benefit of juicing firsthand are Brooklynite entrepreneurs Carl Foster and Kelly Keelo, who launched their business, Juice Hugger. The duo’s mission was to create tasty beverages that happen to be good for you. The company started as an online business in 2010 delivering juices to each customer individually and selling at festivals, events and corporate functions. They opened their first full scale location, incorporating food items in October and have tripled their sales in the first year.

BlackEnterprise.com spoke with Foster about the growth of juice bars and healthy cafes across the country, and how Juice Hugger is determined to stand out as juicing becomes less of a trend and goes more mainstream.

BlackEnterprise.com: What was the impetus behind starting a business in the heath and wellness field?

Foster: I was fat (laughing). I’d reached 218 pounds on my 5’ 9” frame. I’d gained the weight while working as an auditor; a position with a great deal of travel which led to on the road eating at fast food stops. In 2009 I’d reached my breaking point and wanted desperately to get healthy. I was introduced to the benefits of pressed juices through a great friend. After I started shedding pounds while making my own juices, making better eating choices, and through moderate exercise; my friends started asking me to make juices for them. From there the company grew quite organically. I started researching, talking to nutritionists and personal trainers and taking classes on nutrition and cooking. It became my life mission to help people, like myself, gain access to more healthy beverage choices. Today, I weigh in at 160 pounds.

How did you and Keelo meet and decide to start this business?

I have known my business partner, Kelly Keelo, for over 20 years. When I told her about my idea to start a pressed juice company she loved the idea & encouraged me to give it a real shot by moving to New York from California so that we could work together. Keelo handles all the branding, both online and offline; including all graphics, videos, our website, and social media. With limited start up capital, she was able to create a solid brand presence for Juice Hugger, which made our clients take our brand seriously.

Who is your target audience?

Our target audience is the urban community which has been painfully overlooked during this new “fresh juice era”. Companies like Starbucks are getting into the fresh juice market due to current market trends that make it a viable business move. However, most companies like ours are in upscale neighborhoods. I believe we are one of the first to take pressed bottled juices to the lower to middle class community.  Our goal is to create quality products at a reasonable cost for the “everyman” who is often exposed to higher rates of Type 2 Diabetes and other food related illnesses due to poor eating choices increased by lack of healthy food options in the community.  The limited access to health related education & the overwhelming amount of high fat food choices in urban neighborhoods is staggering.

What are some of the successful ways you have reached them?

We formed an online community through social media, our website, newsletters, my online YouTube show “Cookin With Crush” and lots of community outreach events in New York as well as our hometown, Boston. My parents are also from Barbados and the Caribbean American community has been wonderful.

We created products that are not only healthy but taste great & are affordable. People want access to tasty, healthy options so the challenge has been getting people to taste our product. Our retention rate for customers after trying our product is very high, thankfully.

How have you gone about financing the business?

Our company has been financed entirely by our own capital. We felt that we needed to establish our brand first before outside investors would take our vision seriously since most business advisors told us that putting a fresh pressed bottled juice cafe in “the hood” wouldn’t work. Now that we are a valued addition to our Brooklyn community, we would like to begin talks with potential investors in order to expand. We have so many solid ideas that make us excited about the longevity of our brand. We have great visions of opening Juice Hugger Cafes in urban markets throughout the country using locally grown organic produce & workers from local communities. We want to be considered a life style brand that aids in making our community healthy, proud, and economically sound.

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  • Ian Jones

    Great article and very inspiring. Being from Brooklyn, there aren’t much healthy choices in the “hood” and being that you guys went against the grain really speaks volumes.

    Ian Jones,Co-founder & Gm of Piton Mechanical Heating and Air-Conditioning

  • Yvette

    Wow! Great to see young people promoting a healthy lifestyle. I admire the fact that they wanted to take the time to brand their business first, and proved those business advisors wrong in the process! From a graphic designer perspective the branding process is essential to any new business and is often overlooked.
    Yvette ~ Destined Designz

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  • Linda Jackson

    Thank you for such an inspiring story. I started Juicing on 2/6/2012 losing weight and loving how it has changed my life. I would love to start a small business to help my community, need guidance on how to get started, any ideas?

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