Drink your vegetables: Juice craze takes root in Florida

cherrera@MiamiHerald.comJune 30, 2014 

In a place where perpetual summer reigns, citrus trees grow in the billions and the word “orange” can be found in the state’s official flower, fruit and beverage, it is only fitting that Floridians have developed a taste for drinks of the juicy variety.

Although orange juice remains the home state favorite as a $10 billion industry, the nectars of watermelon, avocado and even kiwi increasingly are filling up local glasses — and shopping centers. Some of the newest flavors include Green Detox Medley, Carrot Cayenne and Supa Dupa Vert.

The juicing trend is part of the nationwide health craze that has led the body-conscious to pop weight-loss pills like they are Tic Tacs .

Championed by celebrities including Salma Hayek and Gwyneth Paltrow, juicing manuals, diets and DIY machinery like the Nutri Bullet have become the rage. Increasingly, consumers are trading fizzy drinks for organic and cold-pressed juices.

In a matter of five years, a healthy juice industry has frothed into a $250 million industry in the United States, according to data collected by BevNET.com from market researchers including Information Resources Inc., juice companies and retailers. Overall, U.S. juice production has grown 3.7 percent annually since 2009, according to research firm IBISWorld.

“This is something that’s like health in a bottle in the mind of a consumer,” said John Craven, CEO of BevNET.com, an online trade publication.

Still, some nutrition experts warn that juicing — drinking fruit or vegetable juice as a meal supplement or replacement — can be more harmful than helpful. Nutrition experts suggest drinking the juices as meal supplements, unless they contains adequate protein to be used as a meal replacement, and choosing vegetable-based juices that retain fiber.

“For a lot of people this is an easy way and a tasty way to get in one or two servings of vegetables that they wouldn’t get in their normal diet,” said Sheah Rarback, a registered dietician with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “But it all comes down to the recipe.”

Technological developments have paved the way for high-pressure processing, which uses tons of pressure to pulverize produce and cram more into each bottle, and cold-pressed, which preserves nutrients.

But these supercharged drinks aren’t cheap. Bottles, generally about 16 ounces, can go for as much as $20 for a Los Angeles-made honey, bee pollen and vanilla blend. Most sell in the $8 to $12 range, Craven said.

Yet despite the year-round bikini-body pressures of South Beach, when it comes to the juicing craze, South Florida is behind other markets like Los Angeles and New York, Craven said.

But we’re catching up. Juice bars are popping up from Wynwood to Delray Beach and new brands are joining longtime juice powerhouses on the shelves.

Fittingly, South Florida’s juicemakers are leaning heavily on tropical fruits including rambutan, a small red sweet-and-sour fruit native to Southeast Asia, and lychee.

The flavors don’t stop there. Uber-trendy JugoFresh serves up ingredients like echinacea extract, camu camu, chlorophyll, dandelion and sunflower sprouts. Hollywood-based Chimp Food incorporates peels, stems and leaves in its juices. In Brickell, LeBron’s wife Savannah James has opened The Juice Spot, offering mixes like The Skinny (grapefruit, pineapple, turmeric, E3 live and cayenne) along with oatmeal and berries. Hollywood-based Juicera makes four juices jammed with greens and four other flavors, sold in 12 local Whole Foods Markets. All are juicy-come-lately compared with Miami-based Lakewood Juices, which has been filling supermarket shelves from Florida to Canada with organic fruit juices since 1935.

But none is as famous as El Palacio de los Jugos (The Juice Palace), which draws busloads of tourists and locals alike for Cuban favorites like mamey.

Here is a sampling of just four of the many South Florida options to satisfy your healthy beverage needs:

JUGOFRESH

In the middle of the Wynwood Art District, behind a kaleidoscope-like mural of screaming color, is arguably one of the hippest juice bars to hit Miami.

JugoFresh’s Wynwood juice bar is just as trendy as the neighborhood it resides in. Forest green and lime fans line the shop’s back wall. Inside, guests sit on wooden church pews with camouflage tables that swivel. At the counter, gargantuan brown letters quote rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s song Juicy: “It was all a dream.” And at the back wall, behind the counter, is an Andy Warhol orange, blue and yellow painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

JugoFresh owner Matthew Sherman started squeezing juices in 2010 from his apartment on South Beach. By August 2011, JugoFresh had moved into a catering kitchen with five employees.

The first JugoFresh store opened in September 2012 in Sunset Harbor and five more soon followed, including the Wynwood location and shops on South Beach, in South Pointe, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables.

“My goal was to make healthy eating as fun as possible and to try to get people to not worry so much about their health and enjoy healthy products,” Sherman said.

The juices are organic and cold-pressed, allowing for longer shelf life and freshness. They are priced between $4.50 and $12 for 17-ounce bottles, with some potent green drinks only available in 8-ounce doses.

The menu changes every four months and includes juices, smoothies, salads, dips and spreads, bowls, sandwiches and tapas. Juices carry creative names that often incorporate Spanish words, such as Saca Lo Todo and Ya Fui Green, and ingredients from far and wide, including chlorophyll and Himalayan sea salt.

Devotees include Nikita Nanwani, 16, a Ransom Everglades student who has been juicing for two years. Her favorite flavor: watermelon mint juice.

Although she has a juicer at home, Nikita still comes to JugoFresh’s Wynwood location for the atmosphere and wide selection.

“It kind of goes with the whole vibe of Miami. People like to Instagram it,” she said. “It’s cooler than other places.”

CHIMP FOOD

In 2011, Chimp Food founder Scott Joseph weighed 265 pounds. He was sluggish and sick.

Diets didn’t work. Cleanses didn’t work. Traditional juicing didn’t work.

He was desperate. That was when he noticed that animals that didn’t come in contact with humans were rarely overweight, especially chimpanzees, human’s closest relative.

“I thought, ‘there you go,’ ” he said. “Chimps are just like us, so why not?”

And thus, Hollywood-based Chimp Food was born. Based on the diet of chimps, Chimp Food is a raw, nutrient-rich juice that incorporates the peels, stems and seeds of its plant-based ingredients.

Chimp Food is weighed and portioned to USDA Daily Requirements. One bottle of any of its four flavors — orange, grape, apple or pineapple — contains enough nourishment to meet government nutrition standards for a single breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Each bottle contains 25 different fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds.

The company started in July 2013 and earned third place in BEVNet’s 2013 Beverage Showdown. In February of this year, it began high-pressure processing; by late March, Chimp Food was being sold in nearly 40 juice bars and health food retailers in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

A 16-ounce bottle of Chimp Food costs $7.99. The company also sells two bars, one with a day’s supply of nuts and the other with a day’s supply of seeds. Joseph said he plans to expand to incorporate a no-peel drink, a no-nuts drink, and an organic line.

If you’re wondering if it works, don’t look further than its owner. Joseph’s diet has consisted of four Chimp Food bottles a day for the past 18 months. He has lost 100 pounds.

“I see better. I hear better. I think better. My body works perfectly,” he said.

Fitness enthusiasts, too, have taken to Chimp Food to supplement their diets.

Miami personal trainer Becca Tebon has been drinking Chimp Food since February. She drinks one bottle a day, usually for breakfast.

“When I don’t really have time to do my preparation in the kitchen I take a bottle with me on the road so I always have it,” she said. “It’s like taking an apple.”

Shari Hembree, president of Quantum Search Group and a master of reiki, the Japanese stress reduction technique, said that with her busy schedule, Chimp Food is the perfect grab-and-go food. Hembree has been drinking two bottles a day since January.

“It’s more of a whole pure food, so your energy level stays more maintained during the day,” she said. “You don’t have the energy crashes throughout the day that you have with other foods.”

JAMBA JUICE

The juicers have spoken and Jamba Juice has answered. The California-based chain and smoothie giant has added 16 new juices this summer to refresh clients. New ingredients include cucumber, ginger and orange, in combinations like Great Greens (a cucumber, supergreens, lemon and chia seeds mix), the Veggie Harvest (beets, supergreens and ginger) and a tangy Orange Carrot twist.

The chain, founded in 1990, now operates 12 South Florida stores, from West Palm Beach to Miami.

Increasingly, said Southeast Florida franchise owner Guillermo Perez Vargas, customers are replacing their morning coffee with morning juice.

“We have seen a very good number of our guests who have started to come on a daily basis,” he said.

With the growing focus on well-being, it made sense for the chain to give customers healthy juices made from locally picked produce, such as carrots, spinach and apples, he said.

Nationally, Perez Vargas said, there has been an increase of 4 percent in sales since the new line rolled out in early June; the South Florida stores are on target with the rest of the country. The 12- and 16-ounce juices are priced at about $4 and $5.

On one recent morning, Jamba Juice regular Meghan Gonzalez, a 29-year-old environmental sciences professor, slurped down an orange juice, kale and banana mix called a Kale Orange Power. She goes to the Jamba Juice in Florida International University’s Graham Center twice a week, she said, drawn by their tasty flavors.

Stella Russotti, an FIU religious studies sophomore, made her first test of the chain’s new juices earlier this month: a plum-colored Orange Berry Antioxidant. Due to a heart condition, she tries to eat a balanced diet every day.

“That’s yummy,” she said when she got her juice, raising her eyebrows.

She’ll be back to try some more, she promised.

EL PALACIO DE LOS JUGOS

Long before Hollywood stars discovered juicing and cold-pressed became a marketing buzz phrase, Apolonia Bermudez opened a tiny café in Little Havana.

Bermudez and her then-husband, Reinaldo, arrived from Cuba in 1965. She worked at a factory, he at a supermarket.

They opened the café on a whim. She made the juices by hand every day — at the time she only sold melon, mamey and pineapple — and the store didn’t even have a name. That is, until Emilio Estefan Sr., father of music mogul Emilio Estefan Jr., came through the shop.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you name this El Palacio de los Jugos? You can patent your name,’ ” Bermudez said.

The couple opened their first store under that name in 1977 at 5721 W. Flagler St. Palacio would soon expand to seven locations across Miami and Hialeah. Three juices turned into 22, each recipe a creation of 78-year-old Bermudez.

“No one taught me how to make them. I just liked cooking and I liked inventing. I’m still inventing more,” she said.

The all-natural juices are made fresh at each Palacio. They have a shelf life of three days and are sold to customers in half-gallon bottles or individually in Styrofoam cups that go for $2 a pop. Bermudez said she hopes to include more flavors that mix some of her current juices or incorporate green vegetables.

Since her customers became more health-conscious in recent years, she said she has seen “hundreds and hundreds” of juicers pass through the restaurant looking for natural juices. The business sells about 200 $8 half-gallon bottles of each juice every day.

The menu has expanded to include traditional Cuban dishes like chicharrones, a fried pork rind dish that is one of Palacio’s most popular, and arroz congri, or brown rice and beans.

Bermudez keeps a strict schedule, waking at 4 a.m. and working weekends. Four or five tour buses unload at the Flagler Street location every day, bringing tourists who have heard of Palacio from one of its many TV appearances nationally and globally.

Her juices are one-of-a-kind, Bermudez said. “People will try to imitate me but they can’t match me.”

The scene at the original Palacio is Miami at its multicultural best. Cars rush past; pedestrians call out in Spanish. Regulars cluster at the outdoor seating area under a green tent. Elder men in button-down shirts gather in groups in the hallway while selecting produce, talking of Cuba and trying to pinpoint mutual friends from their small Cuban towns. The lines at the juice bar seem endless.

Alfredo and Waldina Valdez, 86 and 80, respectively, have been coming every two weeks to the Flagler Palacio since it opened in 1977. On a rainy afternoon earlier this summer, they sat eating pork and congri, each with a cup full of mamey juice and another half gallon to take home.

“There is a great ambiance here and a lot of people come,” Alfredo Valdez said. “The food is always fresh.”

Waldina Valdez agreed. “And the mamey is my favorite,” she said. “It’s just like the one in Cuba.”

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