COMPANY NAME: Caribé Exotic Juice
Headquarters: Miami and Washington, D.C.
Concept: Build lasting supply chains to connect Caribbean and Latin American producers to the U.S. market. Right now, the company is focusing on helping small farmers in the Dominican Republic make use of excess fruit by purchasing produce the farmers ordinarily would discard and making cold-pressed juice from it. The juice is then sold in Miami and Washington, D.C., under the Caribé brand.
Story: While undergraduates at the University of Miami, Cristian F. Robiou and Luis Solis wondered why larger beverage companies did not source fruits at large scale from the Caribbean and Latin America to make natural juices favored by Hispanic consumers. Passion fruit and sour sop, for instance, are popular in multicultural households, but high-quality, ready-to-drink options did not exist in the market.
That question was the intellectual genesis of Caribé. But the soul of the company developed later, as the founders tried to solve the question.
“While graduate students, we researched the question and found a suite of issues that made building a supply chain more prohibitive in this part of the world: wide-scale disorganization at the local governmental level in the Caribbean, disorganization as to the way representatives handled their duties, and even wider corruption at the EX/IM level. This angered us,” said Robiou. He was then in his first year at Harvard Law School, while Solis was in his first year at Darden Business School at the University of Virginia.
The research project began as an aloe farm and eventually became Caribé Exotic Juice, a company selling cold-pressed juices made from exotic fruits imported from the Dominican Republic, where both Robiou and Solis grew up. Dominican farmers, who typically struggle to sell their products overseas, directly benefit. The arrangement in turn improves the social and economic conditions of thousands of agricultural workers in the DR.
“We realized there was a lot of paving to be done to make sure we could make this concept work,” Robiou said. “But we did it because we care about helping and developing the Caribbean and doing so in a way that benefits U.S. consumers.”
In 2014, Caribé launched its juice in the mid-Atlantic. The local Whole Foods picked it up. Now the company has four juices, found in all Whole Foods in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and soon will carry the juices in New York and New Jersey. The juice will also soon be in 50 Harris Teeter supermarkets and is approved to launch in 100 Krogers.
Caribé is also found in many fast-casual restaurants and independent stores in Miami, including The Daily Creative, Spring Chicken, Jimmy’z Kitchen, Wynwood Cafe and Pinecrest Wayside Market. Robiou hopes to get into Whole Foods and Publix in South Florida. “We’re committed to Miami. We are going to make it work.”
The four flavors are Starfruit (15 calories, drink it straight up or use as a mixer), Passion Fruit, Guava and Acerola Berry. Coming soon: a Caribé coconut water (made with Dominican coconuts and a splash of lime) and a mango mix. A cold-pressed coffee drink — with a Caribbean twist, of course — is in the works. The bottles retail for $2.99 to $3.49.
Launched: February 2014
Management team: Cristian F. Robiou (based in Miami); Luis Solis (based in Washington, D.C.)
No. of employees: Eight full-time employees spread out among operations, marketing and sales, plus 16 part-time employees.
Financing: $750,000 from friends-and-family financing rounds. The team expects to soon complete a $2 million financing round with Dominican and American investors.
Milestones: 34 new Harris Teeter supermarkets added to accounts. Likely closing a premier natural beverage distributor in the Northeast representing 13 new states that will feature Caribé. Met with the president of the Dominican Republic in late August to discuss the impact.
Biggest startup challenge: Dealing with the Caribbean and Latin American business culture, as well as Miami’s. “It’s very much who you know and less about the numbers … and I wasn’t prepared for that,” Robiou said. “I thought that if you can prove the business case, that’s that, but that hasn’t been the case here. But being here has forced me to address that weakness in myself. It has made me, I think, a stronger leader because you can’t forget that business is fundamentally about people, about relationships.”
Next steps: Building out broader partnerships within Miami and capturing key stores to help expand markets across relevant demographics. Caribé wants to bring in more marketing employees and focus explicitly on advertising for 90 days in 2017. The team is developing more dynamic branding tied to Miami.
“We want to be the standard here in Florida. I want someone to be able to walk into a Whole Foods or a Publix and find Caribé on the shelf,” Robiou said. That kind of availability brings home the idea we had when we started Caribé, of seeing Miami as this link to the best of the Caribbean. We care very, very much about growing from here and being something that stands for good in Miami.”
Mentor’s view: Seeing the health trends, Adam Meltzer, owner of The Daily Creative, said he began carrying Caribé products in his restaurant about a year ago and sales are strong. He also introduced Robiou to Gordon Food Service, a distributor that Robiou is now working with. “When I first tried the passion fruit flavor, I was immediately impressed with the unusual, yet refreshing taste. It piqued my interest to try them all,” Meltzer said. “The challenge that he faces moving forward is to keep the buzz going, to keep the Caribé name fresh in people’s minds with social media, tastings etc. Marketing will be the key to his success from here on.”|
Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg
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