Doug Evans is trying to make me love juice.
The founder of Juicero and former CEO of Organic Avenue has come to my office with his extremely fancy juicer in hand (well, on a cart, toted by two assistants). I'm excited to give it a try. I'm also thoroughly surprised that Evans has even agreed to meet with me.
When Evans visits, it's about a month after he launched Juicero. That means it's also a month after I wrote a story mocking everything his company has to offer: a $700 juicer, and the $5 to $7 packs of precut fruits and vegetables that it juices.
Juicero's juicer — also called Juicero — is easy to make fun of. Really, all you have to do is describe it. It's expensive. It has Wi-Fi. It can't juice produce bought from the store. It won't make juice if your internet is down. And it won't make juice if your pack of Juicero-approved produce is just a day past its expiration date (the juicer scans a code on each pack, then looks it up online to verify freshness). It really is a ludicrous product.
And Evans doesn't always help its cause. As we begin chatting, Evans mentions that he's recently been flying between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York almost nonstop to work on his juicer’s rollout. But it's no problem for him, he says. "I don't get jet lag," he tells me. "The greens are good at absorbing radiation."
Dubious scientific claims like these — even if based on some truth — are part of why I’m skeptical that anyone really needs to buy a $700 juicer and regularly incorporate juice into their lifestyle. Evans either hasn’t noticed my skepticism or is too confident in his product to care. I suspect it’s some mixture of both. I’ve never tried the Juicero, and I think Evans believes that if I just take a sip, then suddenly it’d all make sense.
So Evans unpacks not one but two juicers and is ready to make me fall in love with fresh-pressed juice. He sets one on the table, still inside a large cardboard package, and undoes its fastening, letting the box split open as though it were a cocoon. The Juicero stands in the center, wrapped in a branded tote bag. Later on, a concerned Evans asks an assistant, “Can we make sure we get a label in here that says ‘100 percent cotton?’”
My question is: why does Juicero exist? And who is it for?
Evans’ speech is calm and polite, in a rhythmic way that makes it easy to sit back and listen to him discuss juice ad nauseam. Which he’ll do, if you let him. Evans’ responses tend to go on and on, bouncing from one subject to the next as he discusses the many facets of the juice world. During a phone conversation prior to our meeting, I asked him whether the Juicero is a luxury product. “I’m not in any way comparing myself to Elon Musk and Tesla,” Evans began, before proceeding to compare Juicero to Tesla. He also explained the landscape of commercial juice presses, visualized a future where Juicero juicers are ubiquitous, discussed the size and goals of his engineering team, and after several minutes concluded by saying, “Watermelon, you can press that in 30 seconds with 500 pounds of force.”
Today, the questions I want Evans to answer seem simple: why? Why does Juicero exist? Why would anyone pay this much for juice? Why should someone pay this much for juice?
”After I left Organic Avenue, I was really wondering how I would get my juice,” Evans tells me. Evans was CEO of Organic Avenue, a vegan food and juice chain, for just over a decade, more or less since its inception. He sold the chain in 2013 and was removed from the company shortly thereafter; it has since closed, filed for bankruptcy, and relaunched. “All high-end juice was made on these industrial juice presses,” Evans says. “You get a better flavor. You get a better texture. ... The mouthfeel. It’s a totally different experience.”
Evans wanted to create a juicer that could deliver the same quality at home. Juicero isn’t your average juicer. It isn’t even your average high-end juicer. It’s a super-high-end, cold press juicer, meaning it extracts juice by crushing fruits and vegetables, rather than by grinding them up like most juicers do. The result, according to cold-pressed juice fanatics like Evans, is a far tastier juice, because no flavor has been lost to heat.
Juicero’s juice is so good, Evans says, that “we describe our sampling like a kiss. [The customer] gets kissed by the juice — they drink it — and all the sudden they want it.”
”I’ve never been able to have juice before my yoga practice.”
This makes me uncomfortable, but I am, of course, now obligated to let Evans make me a juice. The process is surprisingly simple. Evans takes one of Juicero’s premade packages of chopped fruits and vegetables, inserts it inside of the Juicero’s metal door, and presses a big white button in the center of the device. It begins glowing and groaning, and a moment later juice pours out into a glass, quickly at first and then slowing to a stop just under two minutes later. There’s little mess, too; you just remove the packet and throw it away.
That simplicity is the real selling point behind Juicero. No chopping. No cleaning. You can get a fresh-squeezed juice anytime you want. “I’ve never been able to have juice before my yoga practice,” Evans says. Now, “I press go. I come out of the restroom. There’s my glass.”
While this may be a luxury product at home, Evans expects that many juicers will end up in communal spaces, like offices. Others will end up in restaurants and cafes, which can use Juicero’s juicer and prepackaged produce to easily offer fresh juice to customers. Evans says that Le Pain Quotidien has already ordered 21 juicers to be placed in eight of its Los Angeles locations.
When the press stops, Evans hands me a tall glass filled with a mossy-green liquid. It came from a pack called Sweet Greens, a mixture of apples, spinach, pineapple, kale, and lemon. It tastes good! It’s not blowing my mind or anything — I’m not ready to go on a juice cleanse — but it’s pleasant, with a very green, tart taste. We have a nearly identical cold-pressed juice with us, made by Starbucks’ Evolution Fresh brand, to try side by side. Its flavor is very similar, but Juicero’s is distinctly stronger, easily identifiable as the better of the two products.
So that’s settled. Juicero makes a darn good juice. But still I’m wondering: why? Why commit so much money to this product? It’s got to be a health thing, right? Evans’ last company, Organic Avenue, I knew best for its taxing juice cleanses. Evans once co-wrote on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop that drinking juice cleanses can help you lose weight, have more energy, and look younger.
”We are not in a position to make a lot of [health] claims,” Evans tells me. “If you start to make claims, then this becomes a drug, and then you have to do all sorts of clinical trials, et cetera. We’re keeping it very simple.”
Juicero absolutely makes a good juice
Juicero’s simple message is this: people aren’t getting as many servings of fruits and vegetables as the US Health Department says they ought to. And Juicero makes it easier for people to get those additional servings. Just pop in a pack, and drink up.
Fair enough. Under 20 percent of adults are meeting the recommendations, according to a CDC report released last year. But there’s something pretty extravagant about solving that problem with a $700 juicer. I guess it’ll at least enable more fruit and vegetable consumption for the rich customers who can afford it.
Ask Evans for his personal feelings, though, and his thoughts on the health benefits of juicing get more interesting. For 17 years now, Evans has only eaten raw, uncooked fruits and vegetables. It started in the late ‘90s. “I met a woman in a nightclub. She was a vegan,” he says. “I had never heard of ‘vegan’ before.” He tried it out and never looked back. “In a two week period, I went cold cucumber.”
”They’re not measuring vibrational energy.”
Evans says the switch was like putting on glasses for the first time. But what exactly is it about raw food that makes him feel so good? “It’s eating things that still have a life force,” he says. “People can mock me when I talk about the Chi and life force and conventional science. When [conventional science is] looking at the nutrients, they’re measuring proteins and amino acids and Vitamin E. They’re not measuring vibrational energy.” I guess that’s why Juicero is staying away from health claims.
In fact, the nutrition community isn’t all that thrilled about juice. When I ask Mary Story, a professor at Duke Global Health Institute who was a member of the United States’ 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, she tells me that, “100 percent juice can contribute to helping Americans [get] fruits and vegetables, but the recommendation in my view should really be eating the whole fruit and vegetable and not getting juice.” The problem with straight juice, she says, is that you’re not getting any of the fiber. And fiber is a huge part of the reason we need to eat fruits and vegetables. “There’s very little benefit to just drinking juice by itself,” Story says.
Evans has me try another pair of juices, one with beets and carrots, the other with spinach and celery. They’re also pretty good. His team was supposed to bring along five glasses’ worth of produce packs, but I suddenly realize that they’ve brought a lot more. They keep appearing on the table in front of me. And now Evans is asking to set up a second juicer in our office kitchen, so that everyone can try it out. He suggests this several times, and several times I politely shoot down the idea. The machine is noisy and people are working in there.
Instead, I invite some people to come try out Juicero’s juice. As they step in the room, Evans and an assistant shoot into action, setting up the second machine and pressing juices one after the other. Try this one. Try that one. Did you get the beet juice yet? What about the spicy one? I’m not really sure what’s going on. They’re making juice after juice and won’t stop. I’m just standing there, drinking as much juice as I can and wondering when this will all end. Will they run out of juices? Will they realize no one can drink this much?
I’m trying to politely suggest that we’re finished but I’ve never been good at being forward, so the message doesn’t get through and they just keep making juices and I don’t know what to do. Can you overdose on juice? The machines keep groaning and new juices keep appearing and people keep handing me glasses of things to drink.
And somewhere in all of this I realize that the Juicero is really just the dream of one strange, juice-loving man. It is designed by him and for him. And probably there are other people who will like it, too. But the only person who really needs it is Evans, who loves juice. And who refuses to cook vegetables.
When it’s finally over and the Juicero team packs up, I wipe down our conference table to clean up the red and green juice that’s splattered all across it. I’m now feeling kind of bloated and full from drinking several glasses of tart juice, but there’s still one thing I have to do. I find my colleague Lizzie, who had tried several glasses of juice just minutes earlier. I had to know. What do other people think of Juicero’s $700 glasses of juice?
”It’s okay,” she says. “I wish it had some pulp.”