This is the first post in CBIC’s series, “Grounds for Innovation: Student Entrepreneurship at UVa”
You may have seen these bright bottles of delicious exotic fruit juice at some well-known retail locations around Charlottesville, such as Little John’s, Whole Foods and Greenberry’s Coffee. But what is Caribé? As its co-founders describe it, “Caribé is juice done right. Nutritious, really fresh, and helping fruit growers: the three things every juice should have.”
They launched this past summer and are now offering four different single fruit flavor options: passion fruit, acerola cherry, guava, and starfruit. Their cold-pressed fruit, sourced from the Dominican Republic, is shelf-stabilized through high-pressure processing machines (HPP) and bottled right here in Charlottesville.
They’re committed to producing natural, fresh juice that is a healthy and attractive alternative to all of the sugary processed fruit drinks on the shelves today. “Fresh—that’s what juice is for us. We want to have the fruit, not just the water. It’s the seeds, the pulp, everything.” What’s more is they’re doing it in a way that will create a more sustainable future for the people of the Dominican Republic, the two co-founders’ homeland.
A Culture, a Vision and a Product
The first time Luis Solis (UVa Darden MBA ‘15 & U. of Miami, Finance/Economics ‘11) left the Dominican Republic for the United States was when he went to college at the University of Miami. There, he became close friends with Cristian Robiou (Harvard Law ‘15 & U. of Miami, Political Science ‘11), a fellow native of the Dominican Republic who shared his passion for and philosophy of value creation and building. They talked about one day creating a brand that represented and positively impacted the Dominican Republic such as, perhaps, leveraging an aloe vera plantation by creating better working conditions.
But first, Solis entered the University of Virginia’s Darden Business School in the fall of 2013 where he met fellow Darden student Julian Wright (Ursinus College, Chemistry 2007). He introduced Wright to Robiou and the three immediately clicked. On a trip together to the Dominican Republic, Wright was introduced to the many popular fresh local fruit juices. They pondered, “Is there any way we could make juice this fresh and healthy in the United States, with these fruits? Why don’t we experiment with fruits we can grow for some competitive advantage, brand it, and offer aloe vera for digestive benefits?”
Most of the fruit drinks widely available in the United States are high in sugar, with natural ingredients and vitamins added after processing. “Nutrition 101 is that if it’s going to taste good, it’d better be nutritious,” says Robiou. They believed they had a competitive advantage to solve this problem, to source from where they could guarantee really fresh fruit. And they could ensure that the farmers in the Dominican Republic didn’t have to worry about where their produce would go, having secured a vendor.
After experimenting with many flavors, mixing aloe vera with flavors like passion fruit and mango, they settled on four single flavors. Putting them in simple labeled bottles, they tested their first product on graduate students at Darden. Leveraging such resources as the Harvard Innovation Lab, they amassed information with respect to design, branding, and law. “We were learning about the beverage industry as a whole, making sure our product has actual value-added benefits (rather than perceived value) and accounting for ways in which we can use our natural edges (i.e., competitive advantage) to our benefit.”
The team bootstrapped their operations and logistics in Charlottesville: sourcing the fruits, manufacturing and opening new client accounts. For a product with high-quality aspirations, logistics were a significant challenge. They had to become familiar with many disparate requirements, such as food and drug regulations and logistics specific to the beverage industry. Because they were committed to preserving the taste and nutritional content of the juice, they could not sterilize the juice using the conventional pasteurization method. Their cold-pressed fruit, sourced from the Dominican Republic, would be shelf-stabilized through high-pressure processing machines (HPP) in Philadelphia and bottled right here in Charlottesville.
Caribé Juice launched in August 2014. It was an exciting time as they started building a following of customers who loved their product. Through talks with larger distributors, they came to understand that they needed traction in more metropolitan areas. Due to their significant ties to Miami, as well as the significant Hispanic population, they’re looking to expand there and have already completed much of the market research there. “Vendors couldn’t believe something like this didn’t exist already. They loved our brand and some were interested in purchasing from us right then and there,” recalls Robiou. He will soon be moving to Miami and will hire a team to capitalize on this new market.
Seeds for Success
So what has driven Caribé’s success so far? Three main things:
- A Validated Idea “We came up with this great idea we were able to validate,” says Robiou. “As we grow, we are actively showing the product to people and incorporating their feedback.”
- Passion and a Good Team “Having confidence, passion and vision is what has been most important for us,” emphasizes Solis. “We were able to stay positive in times of struggle and to keep working hard. We rarely have weekends, and rarely have time for ourselves. To do that, it’s necessary to be passionate about what we are doing and believe in what we are doing.” Robiou has a slightly different perspective. “You have to be able to separate noise from signal very quickly, to find a way to create, deliver, and capture the value. It’s more of a skill and a certain mindset than just blind passion.”
- A Healthy Culture of Value Creation “You have to just know that your teammates will do a good job. We might come at an issue from different angles, but we always end up on the same page. And you need to write down tangible goals and look at them every morning. If you don’t, a month goes by, and you might think, ‘This feels off.’ You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s a culture change. Maybe it’s a hire, or a certain account you have, that is compromising it. You have to protect your culture, it’s the generator of your values and is necessary for success,” says Solis.
The Path Forward
Caribé has big plans for the future, including philanthropy to give back to and grow the communities in which they do business. “One of the biggest missions of Caribé is helping the Dominican Republic,” Solis says. “We are sourcing fruits from small farmers there, and we are committed to helping them grow fruits sustainably and organically.” Robiou adds, “We have plans to incorporate a co-op there for all farmers. We want to give them a share and make them stakeholders in our success.”
But it’s bigger than that. “There are so many things we want to do and the juice is just the beginning. We want to see what this industry can become. We want to consolidate all these phenomena we see, and do what no one else has been able to do.”
This article originally appeared on CollegeStartup.org, and has been cross-posted with permission here.