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Small Business Success Story: How Daily Greens Grew From Niche to Nationwide

May 1, 2015
Small Business
Small Business Success Story: How Daily Greens Conquered Production Challenges
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A decade ago, Shauna Martin was 33 years old and terrified when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a busy mergers and acquisitions lawyer, she took off only a few days around chemotherapy and surgeries.

Even after undergoing a grueling year of treatment, the Austin, Texas, resident was still at high risk for recurrence and even death. She felt physically broken from the toxins and multiple surgeries.

“I decided to take matters into my own hands, and I went on my own journey of self-health,” Martin says. Her mission to feel better and avoid recurrence led her to explore the connection between food and disease, and she began drinking green juice daily and eating a vegan diet. “It moved the dial for me very quickly back to thriving,” she recalls.

She says the green veggie juice felt like a magic pill as it flooded her body with nutrients. Her family began juicing, too, but after a few months they quit due to the hassle and asked Martin to make it for them. She continued since she believed everyone deserved access to it, and she experimented until she found recipes even skeptics loved.

Around three years ago, Martin began questioning her career path and decided to turn her passion into a business called Daily Greens. She continued working as a lawyer to bootstrap the organic, cold-pressed juice operation and faced challenges, such as having to procure uncommon equipment and lacking distribution options in her town. But a year later, she was able to leave law and focus fully on bringing green juice to everyone.

“Daily Greens is a great example of a local food company with a product idea that was created and incubated out of Austin and worked its way up from a small niche product in the farmers markets to a well-branded national brand,” says Daniel Heron, organizer of the Food + Tech Austin community.

Entering a new market

Martin knew juice was expensive to make, especially since local juice shops charged $10-$12 per drink. She knew it could be more affordable if produced at scale. She started researching technology, cold-calling around 50 people to learn more.

She discovered high-pressure processing machines, which remove bacteria through pressure rather than heat — leaving the juice raw with nutrients intact while extending shelf life. The equipment wasn’t available locally, but she was introduced to someone who had one of the machines 200 miles away in Dallas. Martin decided to try producing juice with his equipment and selling it at a farmers market.

“He took me under his wing and let me drive 60 bottles up there and take them to the farmers market in Austin the next day,” she says. The night before her farmers market debut in December 2012, she was up late preparing, with her son and husband helping her with labels. The hard work was worth it: “It was a massive hit, and we sold out immediately,” she says.

Expanding into retail and distribution

Small Business Success Story: How Daily Greens Conquered Production ChallengesMartin got serious and found a shared kitchen with fellow food entrepreneurs. She couldn’t afford to hire anyone the first few months, but she had in-house help: Her husband owns a branding and packaging agency focused on food and restaurants, and her background in mergers and acquisitions helped her land investors. She bought increasingly bigger juicers and experimented with recipes featuring flavors such as vanilla, jalapeño and cilantro.

Her next goal was to secure placement at major retailers. Within just weeks of her first farmers market appearance, she scored a meeting with Austin-based Whole Foods. “We hit the shelves before any other cold-pressed juice companies hit the shelves in Texas, so it was great timing,” Martin says.

Since Martin’s products required refrigeration, she knew she needed a distributor with refrigerated transportation. “It would be impossible for us to deliver to more than just a few stores directly in our single refrigerated truck,” she says.

Options are limited, but it was no matter: When Martin began approaching retail grocers, they told her their preferred distributors, so she used their picks rather than seeking them out herself. “Retailers pull a lot more weight with distributors than we do, so with their request we were able to get national distribution very quickly,” she says. “Once we were in these distribution warehouses, other retailers could begin to pull our product from those same distributors.”

Whole Foods helped set her up with United Natural Foods Inc., and another major grocer, HEB, helped her get set up with KeHE—two of the nation’s largest food distributors. Daily Greens also uses Dora’s Naturals, a smaller distributor. Christopher Psuik, vice president of business development at Dora’s Naturals, says the juice industry has become a very competitive category, so partnering with the right distributor is key for businesses like Daily Greens.

“If you’re a small brand, you can destroy your brand overnight by going to the wrong distributor,” Psuik says.

“Most distributors make money just off selling cases, so they just want tonnage on the truck,” he says. “You just become another item in their warehouse, and if you don’t have enough resources to support your product through their system, you’ll fail.”

Dora’s Naturals is a full-service direct store delivery distributor that services very few brands, he says. This allows them to ensure their brands are in the right locations with the best deals. By partnering with a company like his, “Daily Greens gains a focused, experienced sales and distribution team with access to detailed sales information, staff and trade relationships,” he says.

Daily Greens flourished, and about a year ago Martin opened a permanent manufacturing facility in East Austin. She purchased a large, commercial-grade juicer that crams six pounds of produce into each bottle of juice, resulting in nine servings of fruit and veggies. This facility also has a nutrition studio where consumers can taste juice and ask questions. Her product line continues to expand, and her drinks are now in over 1,000 retail stores nationwide, from big grocery chains to mom-and-pop shops.

Considering locations

Small Business Success Story: How Daily Greens Conquered Production ChallengesMartin believed Austin was an ideal location for her business, but one of her seed investors (now full-time business partners) initially tried to convince her to move operations to Dallas.

“A challenge of Austin is it isn’t a tier-one city like Dallas, so shipping and distribution are out of Dallas — we have to get product up there for our major distributors,” Martin says. But now that Daily Greens has accomplished so much there, they’re in agreement Austin is the right place to be.

Heron says the Austin food community embraces entrepreneurs like Martin. “Austin is a great platform for food and technology innovation, because people here love food and are willing to try new things like Daily Greens,” he says. He notes that when Daily Greens first came out, some weren’t sure whether people would spend that much on a bottle of green juice. “But they created an industry locally, and Daily Greens is now one of the businesses people think of when they think of an Austin food startup in the beverage industry.”

Giving back

Martin appreciates that her success allows her to give back to her community. She co-founded Pink Ribbon Cowgirls, a support group for young cancer survivors, and gives 1% of all sales to organizations that support young breast cancer survivors. Daily Greens also supports the Whole Kids Foundation, which provides resources to schools to promote healthier eating.

As she celebrates almost a decade in remission, Martin still credits her complete recovery to her daily regimen of drinking green juice. And with the success of Daily Greens, she’s able to bring her “drink your veggies” philosophy to the nation.

Emily Starbuck Crone is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @emstarbuck and on Google+. Contact her at [email protected].

For more information about how to start and run a business, visit NerdWallet’s Small Business Guide. For free, personalized answers to questions about starting and financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.

Photos courtesy of Daily Greens.