Building a successful brand isn’t San Diego-based Suja Life LLC’s only mission. For those in the company, it’s about more than the product. “From a company standpoint, we want to make a difference in the lives of our consumers,” Suja’s Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder Jeff Church says. “And we want to close the gap on organic accessibility…food production in the U.S. that’s organic is only 4 percent … And yet there was a Gallup survey result that I saw not too long ago [that] surveyed American consumers and asked them … do you want more accessibility to organic in your daily lives? Forty-five percent of the population wanted more accessibility to organic. So what we’re trying to do is close the gap…and we feel like that’s a worthy goal to do because it just gives people a cleaner, better, more transparent product to consume.”
According to Nicole Vidaurreta, vice president of sales for club, mass and specialty, Suja’s success can be attributed to Church’s leadership. “I know that he’s probably never going to give himself credit, but the reason that Suja is what it is, is because he is such an innovative leader. He’s such an inclusive leader and he gives people [a chance] that you wouldn’t necessarily, that other companies wouldn’t necessarily give a chance,” she says. “[The company is made of] all super young, passionate people and it empowers people to step out and do some awesome stuff. So I think his leadership is key to the success of Suja by far.”
In building Suja’s culture, Church established a set of guardrails that the company now thrives by. “We have several guardrails as a company. One is that we won’t ever heat products… We will only use organic and non-GMO-certified products, and we’re built on health-and-wellness innovation. … And fourth is that we’re transparent.
“…We built [our culture] around, ‘Let’s have a warm, Southern California vibe to it and be super transparent,’” Church continues. “It fits our culture with the average age of our people, which the average age is 25, so it kind of fit within that, and it kind of worked.”
Chief Operating Officer Kurt Cahill notes that the company itself reflects its target demographic. “In developing organic, healthy, good-for-you products, there’s a lifestyle that goes along with it, and the culture in the office mimics the lifestyle,” he says.
The culture within the office also is reflected to its consumers through its marketing efforts. Suja strives to build relationships with its consumers through its main marketing platform — social media. According to Vidaurreta, the company focuses on building relationships, portraying the lifestyle, and avoiding overly pushing its product.
“That’s the difference with Suja, we don’t just say ‘Hey, drink Suja. It’s frickin’ awesome, here’s our product,’” she says. “It’s really about making it more than that — it’s about the lifestyle and about having fun and about not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Vidaurreta notes that Suja’s marketing team only is two years old, and in those two years, its efforts focused on demos and getting the consumers to taste the product. This year, the company plans to increase its digital efforts. “This year, we’ve taken it a step further,” she explains. “One of the things Jeff did is really well is that he hired a tremendously talented digital marketing team, [which is made of] young [people]. … So the digital team is really in tune with Instagram and Facebook, and now SnapChat.”
She also highlights that upon Atlanta-based The Coca-Cola Co.’s investment, the company’s focus was turned toward maintaining its consumer relationships. “One thing I think is different, too, is how much we value our relationship with our consumers,” she says. “When we made the Coca-Cola announcement, we had a huge backlash on our social media because that’s our main vehicle of communication, … so we put a ton of thought and effort into educating the consumer to the fact that it’s only a minority investment. We still have full control of our product, they’re not touching it, we’re manufacturing it ourselves [and] our products aren’t changing.”
Additionally, she says that Church worked with the social media team and personally answered every social media post over the course of the two weeks following the announcement. “Jeff would get on Facebook and personally respond to people,” she says. “We took it a step further; we spent so much to build that relationship with consumers.”
Suja’s marketing doesn’t only focus on social media efforts. Vidaurreta says that the company also utilizes guerilla marketing and field marketing. “We send people out and have them guerilla market at specific events, whether it’s the Oscars, we’ve got people on the streets of Hollywood Boulevard handing out free bottles of juice. Nobody else is doing that,” she says.
However, she emphasizes that the company isn’t just trying to market its product; it’s also building a relationship with the consumer at the same time. “We leverage our consumers. We’ve got the most engagement of any other brand, and they’re not just liking the brand, they’re talking about it. And that’s what our marketing efforts are geared toward — getting people to try the product and then talk about the product. …[But] we don’t just focus on the product when we talk to the consumers. It’s making it a little bit more personal and having it be like we’re going to try to help them with something.
“And then you take it a step forward,” she continues. “We’re totally inspired every day here to go out on a ledge and take risks and we try to encourage our consumers to do the same. So it’s more about a lifestyle than it is just about a specific product. … I know I keep saying it’s not just about the product, but it’s really not. It’s a lot more and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”