A Shoc Energy
Beverage firm making the next generation of energy drinks that are “charged by nature,” and which count numerous athletes as investors. Its products are currently available in about 80,000 retail locations across the U.S., including 7-Eleven, Walmart and Target.
THEN: Co-founded in 2019 by Scot De Lorme, who was vice president of innovation at Corona-based Monster Beverage Corp., which is currently valued around $45 billion and Lance Collins, who has founded several beverage brands, including BodyArmor, which was bought out a year ago by Coca-Cola Co. for $5.6 billion.
NOW: In April, firm raised $29 million in a Series B funding round led by existing investors and prominent athletes. The company originally sought $18 million, which it increased because of demand, Nadel said. “It’s the product and the market—it was much easier than I anticipated,” Nadel told the Business Journal. Keurig Dr Pepper, as well as Collins and 7-Ventures LLC, the venture arm of the 7-Eleven Inc. convenience store chain, made the Series A investment in A Shoc in 2019. Keurig Dr Pepper and 7-Ventures also participated in the latest $29 million Series B.
FUTURE: The company has a master distribution agreement with Keurig Dr Pepper, giving it a national advantage when it started, Nadel says. Keurig also has an option to buy A Shoc. While not yet profitable, the company is growing ahead of competitors at this stage in their development, Nadel said. The company currently has 70 employees with plans to expand to as many as 90 this year. It contracts out the manufacturer of its drinks to facilities around the country.
IN THEIR WORDS: A Shoc markets its product as free of sugar and preservatives. “We thought it was a good time to come in with a 2020 version” of Monster and Red Bull.
Laureen Asseo, Thomas Asseo
Fresh N Lean
Ready-to-eat meal delivery service has been one of Orange County’s breakout businesses the past few years.
THEN: Privately held company, founded in 2010 by Laureen Asseo when she was 18 years old, saw revenue surge to about $119 million last year, up 35% from roughly $88 million in 2020, and nearly triple the $40 million it earned in 2019. The company ranks No. 2 among the fastest-growing private large businesses in OC last year, based on two-year revenue growth, according to Business Journal data.
NOW: Asseo siblings tell the Business Journal they forecast a nearly 40% bump in business this year, with projections for $170 million in revenue for 2022. Projected growth is due to a sizeable new production facility scheduled to come online this summer in Las Vegas, which will more than double the company’s headcount to over 1,000, and eventually allow for a quadrupling in output.
FUTURE: Fresh N Lean has its eyes on expanding beyond the western U.S., with an aim to become a household name across the country. It’s a “very lofty” goal, but achievable, according to Thomas Asseo. “We’re in a space that’s objectively underpenetrated and the players in it are spending lots of marketing dollars and giving lots and lots of discounts to a narrow audience,” he said of the company’s competitors.
IN THEIR WORDS: When asked if the company is currently hiring, Laureen Asseo said, “always. We’re always trying to find good people for our creative and manufacturing teams.”
Juice It Up
Smoothie, bowl and juice chain making big strides. Counts 83 locations and growing.
THEN: Taylor joined Juice it Up in 2019 as its vice president of operations, after serving Atlanta-based Jamba Juice for 14 years as senior director of franchise operations. A year later she was promoted to the president and CEO role at the Newport Beach restaurant operator, which is backed by same owners as Mountain Mike’s Pizza (see page 60).
NOW: The company posted a record $41 million in sales last year, thanks in large part to expanding digital sales and a well-received mobile app. Along with tracking its loyalty members, which increased 57%, digital orders in 2021 grew by more than 70% to account for 19% of all orders—nearly twice the rate in 2020. Firm ranked No. 28 among OC-based restaurant chains this year.
FUTURE: Going through a store design refresh, which debuted at its flagship location along 17th Street in Costa Mesa in 2020. “We are continuing to make the brand fresh, so it doesn’t look like a 27-year-old brand,” Taylor said.
The refresh includes a menu redesign, following a customer shift towards specialty smoothies, which saw 45% year-over-year growth, and an increased demand for açaí bowls that jumped 38% in units sold.
The chain has plans to introduce its first drive-thru this year.
The muscle behind a buff boutique fitness growth machine. Counts portfolio of 10 cycling, rowing, stretching and other increasingly popular exercise brands, including Club Pilates, CycleBar, StretchLab, Row House. Via aggressive franchising strategy and ability to pivot to digital fitness offerings during pandemic, brought its total studio count to 2,229 at end of first quarter.
THEN: Founded in 2017, went public last year and is among the few local IPOs of 2021 where a company’s stock price has remained higher than IPO price.
NOW: The franchiser added 99 locations in the first quarter. Total studio licenses sold increased to 4,684 globally.
“With a solid start to the new year, we continue to solidify our position as the largest and most differentiated global franchiser in the boutique fitness industry. We remain on track to meet our guidance for 2022,” Geisler said in May.
Secondary offering completed in April, company’s valuation now in the $1 billion range.
FUTURE: The company forecasts to open at least 500 units during this year and to hit revenue between $201 and $211 million for the full year. Additional acquisitions are possible.
STEVE SCHULZE, ALEXIS SCHULZE
Nékter Juice Bar
Next-generation juice concept, known for its vegan juices, smoothies, açaí bowls, and other healthy snacks, that aims to be the “Starbucks” of their category. Now in the midst of an aggressive growth strategy through franchising.
THEN: Founded in 2010, the company ended 2021 with 170 locations across the U.S., with plans to open an additional 55 spots in 2022. Reported having signed another 150 agreements with new and existing franchise partners in 2021. Steve Schulze noted a “seismic shift” in the way people viewed health during the pandemic.
NOW: The company reported a 28% increase in 2021 revenue compared to a year ago. “We maintained the strategy of controlled growth,” Steve Schulze said of the company’s expansion plans.
FUTURE: New additions to locations include window pickup and curbside storefronts. More food items will be slowly introduced as the company starts to implement ideas from 2021 brand data. These offerings highlight Schulze’s plan to ultimately drop “Juice Bar” from the company name and move forward with simply “Nékter.”
IN THEIR WORDS: “I don’t think that idea of being healthy is ever going to go out of style,” Steve Schulze said. “I don’t think anyone makes New Year’s resolutions about getting less healthy and says ‘Nope, I’ve ate too many fruits and vegetables.’ So, the wind’s at our back.”
Organic dairy brand that’s leading the comeback of cottage cheese. Company offers a variety of multi-serve and single-serve cottage cheese products, as well as sour cream. While it operates out of a small office space in Irvine’s Eureka Building, its products line the shelves of over 10,000 stores, including Whole Foods and Target.
THEN: Founded in 2015. The idea for Good Culture was born after Merrill was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory disease with no known cure. This prompted a complete overhaul of his diet; for three years, he ate nothing but fermented foods, organic meat, fruits and vegetables—and cultured dairy.
NOW: Firm has experienced “explosive growth,” with a 79% compounded annual growth rate, and $70 million in sales for 2021, officials say. That growth stands as an anomaly, as the country’s cottage cheese industry has seen declining sales as customers have gravitated more toward Greek yogurt offerings in recent years, according to industry reports. In February, the brand secured $64 million in a Series C funding round led by Colorado-based investment firm Manna Tree and Pennsylvania-based food investor Semcap Food & Nutrition.
FUTURE: Company is on track to reach $100 million this year, according to Merrill. “Good Culture is the biggest contributor to cottage cheese growth in the U.S.,” Merrill told the Business Journal. “We expect a growth rate well into the double digits for the upcoming years.”
IN THEIR WORDS: “Cottage cheese was an overlooked superfood with more protein and less sugar than yogurt, but it lacked relevant innovation and brand appeal,” Merrill said.
CLAUDE TELLIS, KAREEM COOK
Vegan nutrition company on a mission to encourage the prediabetic Black community to adopt healthier diets.
By partnering with several large retailers, Naturade aims to bring healthy food to the most underserved corners of the country. “We are working to solve a food justice issue,” Tellis says. “Now, the same nutrition options people have in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, are available to folks in neighborhoods with bodegas and liquor stores.”
THEN: Tellis met business-partner Cook studying business at Duke University. Cook, who grew up in the Bronx’s housing projects, always found it unfair that his mother had to take a bus and a train to get to a good grocery store. Both men had family members with diabetes and cancer. “We knew we wanted to impact food access in our careers,” Tellis told the Business Journal. The duo first took their mission to Sacramento, and successfully banned junk food throughout California’s public school system. Then, they made their move to California, and in 2012, acquired Naturade, a nearly 100-year-old health and wellness brand.
NOW: Naturade offers about 40 different plant-based products, from meal replacement shakes and protein powders, to vitamins and supplements. The company’s popular weight-loss shake VeganSmart retails on Amazon for $25, meaning each serving costs under $2.
FUTURE: In recent years, revenue has grown about 25% annually. Tellis hopes to double or triple that number this year, due in part to partnering with “the biggest and the best”—Costco, Target, Whole Foods and Walmart, he said. Recently announced expansion of offerings at Target.
IN THEIR WORDS: “We believe we identified an opportunity gap, and we’re hitting our social mission,” Tellis said.