When lawyer Tamara Scribante and her stockbroker husband Mark Ogilby returned to Durban after working in London for 12 years, they couldn’t find the one thing that had got them through stressful 20 hour days of “mergers and acquisitions” and corporate networking – freshly pressed vegetable and fruit juices.
“We had no time, we just worked. We turned to juicing to get through the afternoon,” Scribante explains.
Back on home turf, the couple turned to the organic veggie garden at Piedmont, a 40 acre Summerveld stud farm owned by Scribante’s father. They harvested their own freshly grown produce and sourced additional organic ingredients from farmers and markets in KwaZulu-Natal to create healthy juices packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.
It wasn’t long before word was out in sporting circles in the upper Highway area – Scribante is a trail runner – and more and more requests were coming in for juices to both boost nutrition and detox.
From producing just a few bottles a day for four trail runners to turning out more than 100 a day within a month, it was inevitable that the juicing operation became a business and The Juice Kitchen was born in August last year.
What is interesting is that, through the Juice Kitchen, the couple has an opportunity to actually shape the market as they grow their business.
Scribante and Ogilby explain that freshly prepared juices are available via kiosks and food trucks in most major metropols in Europe and America. South Africa is way behind what is now recognised as one of the fastest growing food trends globally.
Even fast food crazy America is apparently on board with annual revenues for smoothie and fruit and vegetable juices estimated at anything from $1 billion and $5 billion. Banking on an estimated year on year growth of between four and eight percent, even take away coffee giant, Starbucks is on board. Last year, it bought Evolution Fresh to provide on-the-go freshly prepared juices for those not in the market for a caffeine fix.
The South African market is barely a seedling with just four known organic juice companies in Cape Town, a few in Gauteng and the Juice Kitchen in Hillcrest.
Their initial market research confirmed all of this with many estimating that it could take up to five years for juicing to catch on here.
Even then, freshly pressed juices are expected to be a niche product aimed at the sporting fraternity and health nuts.
Scribante and Ogilby began by marketing a six bottle a day detox programme over three days. However, when demand grew from those wanting to supplement their diets via juices rather than cleanse, they began marketing via local markets. They also began getting requests for products for those who were convalescing or managing various illnesses.
Scribante describes each 300 ml bottle that leaves her kitchen as a plate of veggies – it contains the four portions of vegetables and one fruit that should be the average adult’s minimum basic daily serving.
“Most people aren’t getting five portions. In fact, they should be getting six to nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day,” she explains.
This inadequate daily helping is also further compromised by cold storage and long transportation times to and from supermarkets as well as by cooking.
“Our juices are all raw. This is what makes juicing powerful. Ingredients are not affected by heat,” she says. Fresh fruit and vegetables arrive in the morning and are chopped, juiced and bottled ready for distribution or freezing by afternoon.
As demand grew, the couple developed a way for customers to buy in bulk and began delivering. Because all of their products are organic, preservative free and are cold pressed, they have a lifespan of just 48 hours. They now flash freeze to “lock in the goodness”.
This ruled out continuing to use glass and the couple sourced biodegradable plastic PET bottles that fitted in with their all natural ethos.
Initially, the names of their juices were written on the bottles by hand. However, as business gained momentum, they designed their own logo and printed their own labels.
Although Scribante is extremely knowledgeable about health issues, she doesn’t claim to be a dietician and has worked very closely with a team of experts to create a variety of different juice formulations and combinations that are suitable for different needs. Juices with creative names like Red Rocket, Wheatgrass Wonder, Berry Bliss, Beet the Competition and, best seller, Green Goddess, help with a range of things including diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cleansing, cellulite elimination and even hangovers!
Given the attention to detail and quality and the fact that ingredients such as organic apples are almost impossible to source in KwaZulu-Natal, these juices don’t come cheap. However, this hasn’t proved a deterrent.
As the business has grown, Scribante and Ogilby have worked hard to develop a brand that reflects all that is nutritious and home grown.
What has encapsulated this and turned heads is the branded VW Crew Cab which Ogilby took over from his father-in-law’s vintage car collection and uses to both deliver and market product.
It is often parked outside local schools where Ogilby markets the latest addition to the Juice Kitchen larder – the Kids Kitchen. This is aimed at replacing sugar filled fizzy drinks with tasty healthy alternatives for children who are often not encouraged to eat fruit and vegetables.
For the Juice Kitchen, it is still early days. Ultimately, the couple would like to set up juice bars where customers can watch their juices being made. However, there will be number of bridges to cross en route, including quality control.
“This is a health business and it is important for it to stay that way. But it is still early days and the answers will come in time,” Scribante stresses.
In the meantime, they intend setting up a café at the Summerveld farm that will act as a juicing “hot spot”.
“That way people can see that what we say is what we do,” she says.