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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 03 April 2013 16:00 )
DATE_FORMAT_LC2=Wednesday,April 03 2013 12:00:00 am EDT   
Earthiness, In Demand

NekterInteriorNekter Juice Bar is the fruit of one couple's labor to find healthy and natural alternatives to smoothies packed with processed juices and sugar.

The stores serve natural juice and smoothie drinks that promise a variety of health benefits such as rejuvenation and restoration.

"There's a misconception that a traditional smoothie that you'd get from anywhere is actually good for you," says Steve Schulze, who founded Nekter with his wife, Alexis. "We found that, not only for us, but for our kids as well, most busineses that sell smoothies are simply adding too much sugar."

The Orange County, Calif.-based chain cold presses up to 3,000 pounds of fresh vegetables in each of its stores on a daily basis to make signature mixes. A popular juice option is "the buzz," which is made from carrots, oranges, lemon and ginger. The "nut free orange crush" is made with an orange juice base, strawberries and agave nectar blended over ice. Other options include the Berry Banana Burst, The Cure, Popeye's Acai and Toxin Flush.

All of the kids' smoothies contain what Schulze calls "sneaky spinach" so children can receive their daily dose of vegetables.

"We believe Nekter doesn't even fall into the typical category of a juice or smoothie retailer," Schulze says.

The company has grown to eight stores throughout California since the first unit opened in October 2010 in Costa Mesa. Nekter opened a store inside the LA Fitness in Mission Viejo on Crown Valley Parkway, which has a smaller footprint than that of a typical store.

An ideal location is 800 to 1,400 square feet. The flagship store in Santa Monica is 1,700 square feet, and the company has a location under contract in downtown La Jolla for 2,500 square feet of space.

"We're testing some new sizes with the idea of bringing along different brand extensions that may complement our current brand. Whether they are healthy food items, nutritional consulting, meal replacements or salads to go along with the juices," Schulze says.

Nekter also has established an agreement with the Irvine Company for a kiosk presence in some of its centers. The juice bar has set up a cart at Fashion Island and Schulze says there are plans to expand that brand to other Irvine Company-operated centers in the near future.

While the company does have the LA Fitness and kiosk cart extensions of its brand, a large majority of units are located in typical neighborhood shopping centers or lifestyle centers. Ideal co-anchors for Nekter include yoga or pilates studios, as well as Starbucks or other popular coffee chains.

"We started this two years ago, and from an economic standpoint, we were not in a great position because we sell an expensive product. At the same time, we've been able to thrive and go from a handful of employees to more than 100 employees in a couple of years," Schulze says.

The juice bar has established a loyal customer base that keeps coming back for the healthy concoctions and flavorful combinations. Word of mouth is a huge contributing factor for the company since it has a niche customer base that consists of an upper-class demographic.

"It's a great product, but it's also relatively expensive," says Schulze.

Nekter Juice Bar offers a three-day cleanse that sells from $150 to $190. The cleanse is one of its staple products and can ship anywhere nationally via the company's website for additional shipping charges.

"We have about an 8,000-square-foot office and kitchen where we cold-press about 45 pounds of vegetables and put them into 18 different drinks," Schulze says. "Then we would sell that as a three-day meal replacement to cleanse and reset the body."

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In addition to the three-day cleanse, Nekter Juice Bar has recently launched a line of all natural, juice-based cocktail mixers. Schulze's goal in launching the mixers was to cut out the amount of processed sugars that consumers are mixing with their alcohol.

The non-alcoholic blends are available in four flavors — cold smoked jalapeno for margaritas, basil berry thyme, vanilla pear and grapefruit. Each skinny mix comes in a 32-ounce bottle that is sold in each of the Nekter stores. Schulze says the company has received requests from local grocery chains for the mixers, but has yet to decide if the non-alcoholic juices will be available for purchase from local retailers.

Even though the company is more of a local brand, well-known in California, Nekter has 15 locations planned for the next 12 months and an additional 40 locations planned for the following 24 months. The company has established a three-year mark in which to exceed 100 locations throughout the Southwest.

Expansion plans include a gradual extension of the brand from coast to coast. The company is targeting locations from San Francisco down to Phoenix and throughout the Sun Belt. Following that, the company expects to infiltrate the New York metro area and expand down to Florida.

"The economy has not slowed us one bit. We've been able to accelerate hiring and accelerate sales. Quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year sales are all up across the board," Schulze says.

Nekter Juice Bar has been able to market an in-demand product that is entirely natural. The company does not use any supplements and none of its juices is prepackaged. Each specialty drink or smoothie is made fresh, in front of the customer.

"We rely on mother nature to provide the nutrients. We like to think of all of our drinks as earth in a glass."

— Brittany Biddy

 

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