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Rochester Top 100: Cheribundi finds sweet spot with retailers

Rochester Business Journal
October 16, 2015

The increased popularity of cherry juice has begun to bear fruit for cheribundi Inc.

The firm in Geneva, Ontario County, makes tart cherry juices that are sold to individual consumers, professional sports teams and other customers at stores across the country.

The firm is on track this year to hit some $10 million in sales, up from roughly $5 million last year, CEO Steve Pear said.

“It’s a fun brand,” he said.

Pear was named CEO in May 2014. He has more than 20 years in the beverage industry, working in management positions at Odwalla Inc. and its parent company, the Coca Cola Co.

The business entered the retail market around 2010 and has spent the last few years expanding its presence there, Pear said.

Cheribundi is available in stores such as Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Wal-Mart Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Rite Aid Corp.

Selling its products in stores nationwide accounts for the majority of cheribundi’s sales, Pear said. The firm also has online sales and sells to more than 100 professional and collegiate sports teams, including the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Mets and New York Rangers.

Cheribundi has been in a rebranding mode recently, which started when a warmer than normal climate affected the tart cherry crop in 2012. It forced cheribundi to import its cherries from countries such as Poland, Pear noted.

The business is poised for growth and expects to be in more retailers in 2016.

While other cherry juices are in the market—many made from concentrate and not fresh-pressed juice—no other companies are focused solely on cherries like cheribundi, company leaders said.

The several varieties of cheribundi include the original juice, a light version and those with added ingredients based on a desired effect. Its Rebuild juice, for example, includes whey protein. There are also types of teas and cherry-fruit combination juices.

Each bottle of cheribundi offers an average of 45 tart cherries and their benefits—without added water or sugar, Pear added.

The company always looks to evolve its current offerings and plans early next year to launch a children’s drink, Cherry Buddy.  

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 national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine.

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 in the park when it opened in 2006.

The juices are used by a range of people from professional athletes to weekend warriors to the elderly, who suffer from conditions such as gout, Pear said.

Because of the increased demand, space is maxed out in Geneva, Pear said, explaining that the site used to make the juice two to three times a week. Today, there are two shifts running six days a week.

Cheribundi leaders are looking for new space. Pear would like to stay in the Geneva area and there is a possibility of building a stand-alone site at the Tech Park. The firm does not have time to wait for long to broker a deal, he said, noting the business would like to be in a new larger space by mid-2016.

The firm also plans to add employees. Pear expects to add five to 10 workers next year to its current 30 some employees.

Upstate New York is a good location for the company’s production facility, since most of its cherries come from New York farms, he said.

Among its toughest challenges is to increase consumer awareness about the benefits of tart cherries, along with further penetration into the retail market, said Ed Maguire, vice president of operations, who is based in Geneva.

Pear, who is based in Texas but travels regularly to Geneva, said cheribundi will continue to work at getting into more stores. He is scheduled to be interviewed for the CNN show “In America” next month, with an air date in early 2016, to talk about the business.

Because of the demand, its proven benefits and market niche, Pear believes cheribundi will one day be scooped up by a larger food company and added to its portfolio.

“It will be a very attractive brand to somebody over the next couple of years,” he said.

The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. The 2015 Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 4. For more information, go to rochesterbusinessalliance.com.

cheribundi Inc.
Manufacturer of beverages and frozen products that leverage the natural benefits of tart cherry juice
Founded: 2006
Top executive: Steve Pear, CEO
2014 ranking: 34
Employees: 30
Location: Geneva, Ontario County
Website: cheribundi.com

10/16/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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