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Cheribundi squeezes out more growth

Expanding its product line and adding offerings such as smoothie packs are helping sales grow at Cheribundi Inc.
The firm in Geneva, Ontario County, makes tart cherry juices that are sold to individual consumers, professional sports teams and other customers. Sales this year could increase by a triple-digit percentage over last year, its leader said.
"It’s a pretty exciting time," said Brian Ross, Cheribundi’s CEO for the past three years.
The business has spent the last few years expanding its presence in the consumer retail market, he said, and that has begun to bear fruit. He declined to disclose sales figures but said business grew some 50 percent in 2012 and he expects sales to grow at least 50 percent, possibly 100 percent, in 2013. The company has roughly 20 workers.
"We’re moving fast and trying to get big," Ross said.
The business has been able to increase its sales despite a crisis in the tart cherry crop in 2012, when warm weather early in the year affected the growing season. Cheribundi had to pay more to import cherries from countries such as Poland.
"It was a difficult time to be in the cherry business," Ross said.
The company, however, used that time to evaluate its status and look at ways to improve. A product rebranding followed, with updated packaging and new products at the beginning of 2013. Those products included a line of teas and drinks that combine cherries with other fruits, including blueberry, pomegranate and lemonade.
There are 14 kinds of Cheribundi. The list includes the original juice, a light version and ones with added ingredients based on a desired effect. Its Rebuild juice, for example, includes whey protein. There are four types of teas and five cherry-fruit combination juices.
Depending on the type, the juices come in 8-, 16.9- and 32-ounce bottles.
This month, Cheribundi is launching its frozen puree smoothie packs, in original and tart cherry mango, in Whole Foods Market Inc. stores nationwide.
The smoothie packs are the firm’s first foray into a non-liquid cherry product, Ross said.
Cheribundi also shipped its first order outside the country, sending teas to South Korea.
Ross, a veteran in the beverage industry, has shifted the company’s focus from selling to consumers online to selling at retail locations. His goal for Cheribundi is that it will be to cherries what Ocean Spray has become for cranberries.
While other cherry juices are in the market-many made from concentrate and not fresh-pressed juice-there are no other companies solely focused on cherries as Cheribundi is, Ross said.
Last year, Cheribundi closed on a $4.5 million round of equity funding led by Emil Capital Partners LLC of Greenwich, Conn., along with Cheribundi’s existing lead investor, Cayuga Venture Fund, and other shareholders. The funding has been used for marketing and sales initiatives to expand the firm’s national presence.
Cheribundi is distributed at stores nationwide, including retailers such as Wegmans Foods Markets Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., Safeway Inc. and Whole Foods. The business also has online sales and sells to roughly 90 professional and collegiate sports teams, including the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Mets and New York Rangers.
Developed by the company in conjunction with Olga Padilla-Zakour of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, the juices have been shown to reduce inflammation and to provide natural melatonin to help people sleep. The benefits have been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine.
Cheribundi Relax appears in the November issue of Women’s Health Magazine as part of its Supermarket Stars feature.
The cherry juice is made using a proprietary juicing process at the company’s headquarters at the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park, also called the Technology Farm. The business was the first to locate at the park when it opened in 2006.
Ross, 46, is based in Colorado but said Upstate New York is a good location for the company’s production facility, since most of its cherries come from New York farms.
It will continue to add flavors to its juice line and introduce other cherry-related products, he said.
Susan Noble, executive director of the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park, said Cheribundi has grown from one office space at the park to four offices, a lab, production space and a 3,000-square-foot distribution center.
Being at the Technology Farm benefits the firm, Noble added.
"While in this building, they only need to focus on the growth of Cheribundi … rather than deploying scarce human resources to deal with non-growth issues," Noble said.

11/1/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.



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