Ever wonder why you’re paying $8 to $10 for a green juice, or how it remains fresh, even after being packed, sealed and delivered? Kamal Mohamed, founder and CEO of JuiceBot has some answers.
His San Francisco–based start-up aims to transform the entire juicing distribution system. This bot allows users to “personally create” their own blends from local ingredients, bottling them in glass jars to avoid certain chemicals commonly found in some plastics (e.g., BPA, BPS). JuiceBot will join us at Food Loves Tech in June (tickets on sale now!), and we caught up with Mohamed to learn more about this foodtech venture.
Edible Manhattan: The juice industry is pretty saturated right now. What made you decide this was the right move?
Kamal Mohamed: It started out in 2012, while I was in my last year of college and trying to navigate the healthy food and beverage market. I honed in on the juice industry and saw a trend: Smaller companies that started to hit this point of scale—meaning, making sales outside of their home state or city—started seeing complaints and lawsuits as a result of their juice not standing up to the held notion that it was nutritious and fresh. This is because in order to scale, you need to use high pressure processing to keep items shelf stable. This type of processing was built for things like milk, which is pasteurized and meant to have a shelf life.
So, to meet this need, companies had to change their juice to to meet this distribution model. We thought, why not change the distribution model to hold the integrity of the juice intact?
EM: Did price come into play when you were making plans for the business, since juice is notoriously expensive?
KM: Absolutely. We want to tackle the distribution model while still being conscious of the price. We began mapping out a machine that is small enough to fit into cafeterias, apartment complexes, offices and gyms, with the technology simple enough for a small team to run about 10 to 12 machines on their own.
When people think about why things are expensive, they just assume “Oh it’s organic.” But we have to actually ask the hard questions, like about the distribution and how at all the points it stops, a cost is added to it. You’re paying for the entire line of distribution and not just leafy vegetables. By reducing labor, packaging, retail rent and distribution costs, you can sell a bottle of juice for $5 not $10. We compare the difference in cost here to Redbox and Blockbuster.
EM: It seems like price is a huge driving force behind JuiceBot.
KM: I’m the oldest of five kids from an immigrant family who grew up on food stamps, so making food cost is fundamental to my DNA. Being able to bring fresh foods to the masses is our ultimate goal and we think the way to get there is by eliminating the middleman.
My belief is that companies like Door Dash and UberEats have the right idea but wrong implementation. They’ve added to the distribution line—you’ve ordered a $6 salad that you’re paying $20 for because it includes paying the driver, gas, etc. It tackles the convenience but not the price point.
With automation from farm to table, we can cut out a lot of the middle man costs so you feel like you can get fresh food from these pods. In major cities, it feels like you have your own driver through Uber and Lyft because it’s a sharing platform. We want you to feel like everywhere you go from Harlem to Manhattan to the airport, you can have your own automated kitchen that will self clean, sanitize and serve the freshest foods you’ve ever had. When people try our juice, they say, “Wow, I have never purchased juice that tasted like this.” Exactly, because you have only purchased prepackaged juice in a retail format. We are changing that.
EM: So, it’s more than just juice?
KM: We don’t think juice is everything, we think it is something—like Lego pieces. Instead of asking someone to eat beets, it’s easier to get them to try beet juice. When people switch to eating healthy, they go from zero to 100. We are trying to build the blocks by slowly swapping one beverage for juice.
[It’s part of an] evolution of where we’re trying to go, starting with raw juice distribution and eventually moving to food bots. In the future, we want these machines to create a custom salad and a smoothie as well as a juice. You’ll be able to get you a fully organic salad for three or four dollars. That’s the future we see. But to get there, we’re taking baby steps to tackle the beverage side first. We need to build a brand of transparency and trust.
EM: In trying to ease people into healthy eating, can customers customize their juices?
KM: I should start by saying we are not currently selling the machines. They are still in beta testing, but we are receiving e-mails from all around the world to purchase them. We’re currently building model 3 which will be ready for purchase.
You walk into Whole Foods and see a green juice and it has apples, too many or not enough for your tastes. With our model, we can break down what is in it, and through the bot you can curate your juice and get all greens but add a bit of citrus or sweetness. This will free up shelf space for other items.
The juices will all be made fresh in the past 24 to 48 hours and will not be exposed to light or heat oxidation. This is a super important part of our process. For instance, carrots have beta-carotene and vitamin A. As soon as you slice a carrot, the vitamin A is exposed and will degrade much more rapidly in a clear bottle on a shelf. People don’t want to talk about it because how do they make money if they’re not bottling and selling their juices. That’s where we come in. Put it in this machine and let a customer curate their juice.
— Thisisyulin 👽 (@thisisyulynn) July 13, 2015
EM: Sounds like you’ve made the jobs of juice bar owns a lot easier, huh?
KM: When juice bar owners purchase a machine, all they’ll need is the recipe for their juice and we’ll do the rest. We realize business owners already have a lot on their plates and adding technological savvy to that is unnecessary. So we’re working to make the internal parts easy to understand with easily detachable pieces to making cleaning easy. When we sell it, we want to make our juice partners lives easier.
After all that, businesses can name the juices what they want, do the recipes that they want and serve what they want to their communities in a healthy way.
And because everything is online, we know temperature, tank and sale levels. We use that data to identify problems, what juice to make, and how much to make. In the future, we may build an app that shows the timeline of your juice’s life, like when it was made and delivered to the kiosk.
We want to be transparent as possible. The use of technology will allow us to be more accountable and more creative.