Last week’s CES tech extravaganza in Las Vegas gave gadget-loving food geeks plenty of reasons to start rethinking the real estate on their kitchen counter. There was the robo-chef called Cooki, and a 3-D food printer that prints edibles such as cookies, cakes, and even pizza. But one food-tech start-up was (in)conspicuously absent from the publicity fest, even as it has whetted the appetites of venture capitalists and industry insiders as it quietly works to raise some $120 million.
Forget your average six-figure Indiegogo fund-raising campaign. Juicero, perhaps the biggest little start-up you’ve never heard of, has raised nearly $20 million thus far, according to Business Insider, and has its sights set on another $100 million.
So what’s got investors so excited that they’re ready to pony up that kind of cash for a company whose name—as yet—pretty much no one knows quite how to pronounce? In a word: juice.
Doug Evans, the company’s founder and the former CEO and chairman of health-food chain Organic Avenue, hopes to do for the home-juice market what Keurig did for coffee—that is, create an entire market culture (i.e., market cult) surrounding a countertop machine that will deliver superior juice from pouches of fresh-picked produce.
Or at least that’s according to multiple unnamed sources talking to Business Insider. Evans remains mum about Juicero, and no one with any knowledge of the company seems to be talking either, at least on the record. For a tech start-up, a Google search turns up stunningly little—no YouTube demo videos, no breathless accolades from the tech press. Just a more or less blank home page where you can subscribe for updates—but no real indication of what those updates are for.
While this cloak-and-dagger approach may just be a bit of smart publicity (never underestimate the power of mystery to pique the public’s interest), it seems more likely that right now, Juicero doesn’t need the PR—not when it reportedly has captured the interest of Google Ventures, Thrive Capital, and Vast Ventures.
It’s not just the big money in Silicon Valley. As Business Insider reports, “Rumor has it the CEO of Campbell’s tried the juice and ran back to cut a $10 million check.” (Of course, a Campbell’s rep “declined to comment on the funding.”)
One of the biggest names in processed foods would seem an odd bedfellow for a company that purportedly doesn’t just want to sell you a juice maker and shelf-stable pods of carrot or kale concentrate that could double as doomsday-prep fodder. Rather, Juicero wants to create “a whole agricultural arm to the business,” which would allow the company to run its own farms, where it can harvest the freshest fruit and deliver it quickly. The targeted $120 million could help fund a juice farmland grab, but as yet, the ag side of the business is a ways off. Still, there’s a beta product, so to speak. And the initial result? “It’s like freshly pressed juice…only better,” Business Insider reports, citing (again) unnamed sources who have tried it.
Of course, it would seem the perfect time to jump on the juice bandwagon, as a profusion of cold-pressed juice joints have sought to transform our perception of squeezed fruit, effectively seeking to do to our morning glass of Minute Maid what Starbucks did to that lovelorn pot of coffee in the office break room.
Delivering that kind of feel-good freshness at home is tricky, though. At this point, it would seem Juicero’s closest, and perhaps only, competitor would be LivBlend, which offers a sleek (self-cleaning, no less) countertop smoothie maker and delivers the produce to go with it—but only in San Francisco (and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, San Mateo, Redwood City, and Mountain View, California).
Thus, the real innovation, if and when Juicero makes its splashy debut, may not be in its gadgetry but in figuring out how to get the closest thing to just-picked produce into consumers’ kitchens on a national, or even quasi-national, scale—and at a price you don’t have to be Bill Gates to afford. In the meantime, tossing those extra greens from the CSA box into the blender will have to suffice.
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Original article from TakePart