There’s nothing like hitting the market at just the right time, and salad juice B.Fresh is on the supermarket shelves after years of passion-driven new product development behind the scenes at Shropshire salad grower PDM. Produce Business UK talks to the man with a plan, Philip Maddocks, about his high-taste, low-sugar juices and why his new range will tick boxes for buyers seeking to keep up with consumers and help to sustain the future of his business
Juicing, nutribullets, smoothies and green juice are all pretty huge in the food world right now. From apple and cucumber juices to kale and chilli, the juice category is getting a timely touch-up akin to the Innocent boom of a few years back, and third-generation grower, Philip Maddocks is ready and willing to ride the green juice wave.
“People are becoming more adventurous and health conscious, and tastes are changing, as well as attitudes towards sugar content,” says salad-mad Maddocks, who has launched 10 salad juices, with his favourite being Greenglow – a mix of cucumber, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, lemon and ginger, all amounting to just 28 calories (250ml).
“Four years ago, one of my spinach fields was aesthetically damaged by hail and we couldn’t sell it, so it got me thinking about spinach juice. It was the early days of the green juice trend in the US and I enjoyed it, so my wife and I started to develop recipes.”
The couple stocked up more than 100 recipes with their salad stock, “some good and some shocking” – anyone like me, who’s decided to juice kale on a whim will sympathise! – and then it was time to get serious.
Both Maddocks’ grandfather and father had been mixed farmers, although his grandfather had very much loved traditional market gardening, but at 18 years old, after working in California in the late 1980s, he put the idea of growing lettuce and baby leaf forward.
Maddocks started the new business, PDM, with 10 acres on the family farm to grow iceberg lettuce in 1991. Now also producing romaine, little gem and spinach, with a beetroot trial underway, the business grows iceberg across 1,500 acres. With the juice avenue looming, he turned to the US for further inspiration.
After much research and advice, Maddocks decided to build his own high-pressure process (HPP) juicing plant on site; the first of its kind in Britain. “The whole process was like going back to school, but we’ve learnt an awful lot and have the best outcome,” explains Maddocks, who saw the new facility completed in April 2014 and B.Fresh launch in November last year.
“High pressure technology is being embraced hugely in Europe. It doesn’t heat the juice at all and the vitamin content and taste profile stays the same. You place the end recipe in the bottle and seal, then it goes into a high-pressure chamber, where it is put under 6,000 bars of pressure, equivalent to five times the pressure of the deepest ocean. This gets rid of the pathogens and gives it a shelf life of five weeks.”
Demand set to soar
Maddocks believes that the juice category is going to change dramatically in the next 12 months to two years because of consumers’ concerns about sugar content and health. “B.Fresh is focusing on being a very honest company,” he says, admitting it was a bit hairy setting up a new product without any customers signed up.
“There are companies in the Netherlands that do HPP juicing, but we are growers in Shropshire and we felt very strongly that there was no point in sending our produce to another country to bring it back again.”
But Maddocks didn’t go into the project with his eyes closed. After extensive focus group work, he found out what seems to be ringing true – that sugar was an issue for people, but they were not going to forsake taste for it.
“This is a hardcore product and people can’t just transfer from high-sugar content drinks to savoury juice – they have to be weaned onto it,” says the grower, whose 10 juices use apple juice as a natural sweetener alongside beetroot, lemon, lime, orange and carrots. “We have done a lot of NPD on this and clearly the product has to taste good as well as being savoury and low sugar.”
A route to sustainability
One of the aims from now on is to grow all of the products, with the exception of citrus fruits and ginger, on the farm in Shropshire to offer a complete from farm to bottle experience.
“The market has changed considerably in my 25-year career,” shares Maddocks. “I have seen a healthy wholesale market system disappear and the market is now controlled by fewer hands. There are fewer growers and margins are low. People get more of a consistent quality product for a lot cheaper [price] than it should be, but it isn’t sustainable. It comes down to effective savings where possible and diversifying. Juicing adds another element to our business, although it is early days.”
However, it seems the informed gamble has paid off, with Asda stocking six of the juices from July this year and Sainsbury’s taking on the savoury juices in September, as well as listings in Whole Foods Market and independent retailers throughout the UK.
“We have a long way to go and need some real volume, as it’s not a boutique product,” explains Maddocks, who says the process has been a learning curve that he’s not sorry he invested in. “It’s an everyday product at £2-£2.50 a bottle. We aim to expand our range and educate people on what’s good to juice. But we are just at the start.”
B.Fresh – The range
#leanandgreen: “Pure and simple greens with a hint of ginger”
This is 30% celery, 30% cucumber, 15% romaine, 15% spinach, 5% kale, 2.5% ginger and 2.5% lemon with 28 calories.
#hydrationgreen: “Light and hydrating with a subtle sweetness”
30% cucumber, 30% apple, 20% iceburg, 18.5% romaine and 1.5% lime, at 50 calories.
#greenwarrior: “Smooth blend of greens with a hint of ginger”
This 35% apple, 27% cucumber, 25.5% spinach, 10% kale, 1.5% lime and 1% ginger, all for 60 calories.
#rockthebeets: “Rich and earthy beetroot blend”
This has 50% beetroot, 28% apple, 20% spinach, 2% lemon and 70 calories.
#carrotkick: “Light carrot with a zesty kick”
This is 65% carrot 20% apple 15% orange, all at 65 calories.
#easybeet: “Refreshing sweet root hydration”
It’s 39% apple 35% carrot 25% beetroot 1% lemon, at 68 calories.
#theorangeone: “The taste of sunshine with hidden roots”
Just two ingredients with 70% orange and 30% carrot at 88 calories.
#sweetgreens: “Apple, sweetness with a depth of green”
75% apple, 15% spinach, 8% kale, 2% lemon and 100 calories.
#totalbeets: “Refreshing and light beetroot juice with a zesty note”
Nearly, it’s 95% beetroot with 5% lemon and 104 calories.