December 17, 2017

Elm City craft juice company ripe for national growth

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Michel Boissy
Photo | Contributed
New Haven-made RIPE juices will be available in 2,200 retail outlets nationwide as of early next year.

One of the lessons that Michel Boissy learned from his father was to think big.

So when Boissy started FreshBev Craft Juicery eight years ago, he set himself an outsized goal: to revolutionize the bar and fresh fruit juice industry. So far, he's off to a pretty good start.

As of early 2018, the New Haven-based company's RIPE beverages will be in about 2,200 retail outlets, including Whole Foods and Stop & Shop, and about 2,500 bars, restaurants and other venues. The company's 22,000-square-foot state-of-the-art plant on Kendall Street is humming, with plans to open a second manufacturing facility next year in California.

So what sets RIPE juices apart from their competitors? High quality ingredients, competitive pricing and an alternative to pasteurization that preserves flavor and extends shelf life, Boissy said. RIPE isn't just making juice, he said; it's making craft juice.

"We like to think of ourselves as the craft beer of the fresh juice world," said Boissy, the company's CEO. "My vision was to create a company that would make a product that is exactly as you would make it in your kitchen."

Boissy's journey to juice entrepreneur is an unusual one. The 39-year-old Wallingford native started working in restaurants when he was a mechanical engineering and marketing student at Northeastern University in Boston. He fell in love with the food business, doing everything from bar setup to line cooking, at the same time he was mastering the math and principles of engineering.

After college, Boissy took the conventional route, getting an engineering job in Connecticut's aerospace industry. But the graduate of Xavier High School in Middletown began feeling the pull of entrepreneurship, something he attributes in part to his dad Michael, an immigrant from Quebec who built a successful machine shop business from scratch.

In juice, Boissy saw an opportunity. Based on his food business experience, he concluded that most bar and fresh juices were "a joke." Pasteurization and processing robbed them of their flavor and nutrients, he said.

So Boissy put his engineering skills to work and, after about a year, came up with a better way. Instead of heat, Boissy would use high pressure to kill bacteria, a process that already existed and he would adapt to juice. The aspiring beverage magnate customized a hyperbaric chamber, filled it with 40-degree water -- the room is kept at the same temperature to preserve freshness – and stuffed it with bottles of juices. Not only does the process kill bacteria, it preserves RIPE juices for up to 90 days, Boissy said.

"We crush it (the bacteria) instead of cook it," he said. "There's zero, zero change, zero degradation in color, flavor and nutrients, which is the best part."

Boissy also took great care with his suppliers, seeking out the freshest, best ingredients and building strong personal relationships with growers.

In late 2009, Boissy put together a small team and opened up in 2,000 square feet in Wallingford. J. D. Altobello of Cheshire, today vice president of sales and a part owner, was part of that team. The 38-year-old, who knew Boissy from the restaurant business in Boston, moved from Chicago to join the start up.

The group began with three bar juices: margarita, sour lemon and tomato, Altobello said. They made endless sales calls and conducted hundreds of demonstrations, sometimes twice a day, and quickly established a clientele of local package stores and restaurants that included Bar in New Haven and Coyote Blue in Middletown, he said.

Their big break came fast, in February 2010, when Whole Foods agreed to stock RIPE bar mixers. Virtually overnight, they found themselves having to supply 51 Whole Foods stores, Altobello said. The brand has expanded steadily ever since, he said, eventually moving to its current facility in New Haven, where the company employs about 130 people.

In 2015, RIPE expanded into fresh juice. The company offers 16 flavors -- seven mixers and nine fresh juices. Instead of juice blends, the company settled on classics, like orange, pineapple and cranberry-apple, Boissy said. That highlights the best thing about RIPE juice, its superior taste, Altobello said.

"Everyone knows what pineapple juice tastes like, and then they try ours and it's a completely different thing," Altobello said. "It's got a different mouth feel. It's got a different taste that's lost when it's cooked and abused by the traditional way of processing it."

And the price is reasonable as well. A 12-ounce bottle of RIPE fruit juice sells for $2.99 to $3.99, less than many competitors, Boissy said.

Boissy sees major growth ahead for RIPE. The company is tapping into three hot food trends: non-alcoholic, quality and the millennial consumer. "It's a proven fact that millennials will pay a little more for something that's better and fresher," he said.

Christopher Hoffman can be reached at news@newhavenbiz.com

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