Q&A   //   April 3, 2024

‘We were juicing before it became chic’: Natalie’s Juice on building a $140 million business

Now in its 35th year of juicing oranges, Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co. is squeezing opportunities for more growth.

The company, which founder Marygrace Sexton began in 1989 and named after her daughter, has come a long way from its origins as a 1,000 square-foot facility. While Natalie’s Juice started out with orange and grapefruit juice, it now sells more than a dozen juices in flavors such as Blood Orange Elderberry and Guava Lemonade, as well as cocktail and mocktail ingredients such as margarita mix, lemon juice and lime juice. The business is on track to make $140 million in revenue this year, Natalie Sexton, who joined her family’s company as chief marketing officer in 2012, told Modern Retail.

Natalie’s is based in Florida but ships around the world to 15 countries. Last year, Natalie’s expanded to more U.S. states (Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington), upped its retail presence (it’s currently in Albertsons, Whole Foods, Publix and other grocers) and opened an additional manufacturing facility.

Natalie’s has also ramped up its marketing for partnerships. For example, to promote its new limited-edition juice collaboration with fashion company Lilly Pulitzer, Natalie’s is bringing pop-ups and mobile juice stands to stores, hotels and resort markets along the East Coast this spring and summer.

Natalie spoke with Modern Retail about working with Lilly Pulitzer, growing the brand’s product portfolio and inking retail partnerships. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’re now in 15 countries, as well as 42 U.S. states. How do you decide what markets to go into?
My dad was a citrus grower and really became part of the juicing side as well. We had international customers wanting fresh Florida orange juice because of the world-renowned quality. In order to provide them with the product and service, we had to develop a fresh frozen line… And it really grew itself, believe it or not, because the quality of it was so phenomenal. Internationally, it was something that was really brought to us as an opportunity.

Now, as far as expansion across the U.S., we have truly saturated the East Coast, and there are phenomenal opportunities in the Southwest and the West Coast. For a consumer base wanting more nostalgic flavor profiles but also brands that are transparent in how they produce ingredients in their juices, it’s really a brand that’s in demand.

The goal is to eventually, hopefully, be in all 50 states. The strategy that’s really worked well for our brand, but has also in some ways positioned us in a unique way, is the fact that our business is split 50% retail, 50% foodservice. So as we expand into new markets, like Texas, for example, we’re not only trying to onboard major retailers like HEB, but we’re also trying to onboard some of the large produce distributors so that we are servicing both the consumer and other businesses.

That strategy we take into each market that we go into. So in, for example, Arizona, Texas, Los Angeles, we plan to really saturate the market from both sides, both channels. Currently, we have a couple of retailers that are on the horizon. I don’t want to speak to those just yet, because they’re still in conversation. But there are major retailers in both of those markets [retail and foodservice] that we’re very hopeful we’ll onboard soon.

What do you attribute your sales growth to? Is it having that larger footprint?
In the timeframe from 2018 to 2020, Marygrace [Sexton] did a phenomenal job at growing our sales team and our marketing team — and really building a strategy around those two departments to begin to build the brand. Then, obviously, Covid came. But after Covid, we continue to see accelerated growth. And this year, we’re going to come in around $140 million in revenue.

It really comes down to continuing to invest in both our sales and marketing initiatives and continuing to find the right partners to help build the brand. And when I say partners, I mean retailers and distributors in each market [retail and foodservice].

That foundation has really helped accelerate the brand, even more so based off of the consumer trends that are happening. Consumers want authentic foods. They’re becoming more educated on the brands they purchase and what those brands are doing as far as a processing approach and even the ingredients they source. And Natalie’s is positioned perfectly. We always joke with people that we were juicing before it became chic. And we were positioned perfectly when that trend took place about eight or nine years ago now.

What portion of your business is juices versus mixers? Any plans for product expansion this year?
Our traditional ready-to-drink juices are 75% of our business. We have begun to evolve our mixer line, which is 25% of our business, simply because there has been a demand over time for mixers that are more authentic with their ingredients. Mixers are typically shelf stable and are laden with ingredients that are highly-processed and have artificial additives. And so, being a leader in producing high-quality products, that naturally was an integration.

Innovation is always something that we are continuously researching and developing. Towards the end of the year, we plan to release a new line of products. But that is probably as much as I can speak to right now, as far as which category they’re going to be.

You recently unveiled a collaboration with Lilly Pulitzer. How did that come to be?
We have been working together probably for seven years now in various facets, whether that was inclusion as far as product at their events or if they had specific campaigns where Natalie’s got included as a gift. We’ve really had a great relationship with them. And what really started it is our history in the Florida citrus industry.

Both businesses started in Florida. Lilly had her own fresh juice stand. And when she was squeezing juice, the juice blasted on her dress. I don’t want to speak for their story, but the integration there was that she eventually went into creating a beautiful, vibrant clothing line. And Marygrace stayed within the citrus industry and continued to produce world-class fresh juice.

Both became beloved brands amongst their consumer base and fan base. I think the one thing with both Natalie’s and Lilly is our history of female entrepreneurship — but more importantly, the fact that we have built very loyal followings and the synergies between our consumer and customer base are very aligned.

What other partnerships do you have in the works?
One way that we really try to drive marketing initiatives and saturation within the food service realm is we partner with a variety of liquor brands throughout the year — and chefs as well. [They] really show how Natalie’s is not only a phenomenal and nutritionally-sound beverage to drink as is, but also a great additive and a great ingredient and allows your creations to shine from both a mixology and cooking initiative. Waterman Spirits Vodka was one of our more recent collaborations, and one of our long-standing tequila partners was Tanteo.