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Finding a Way to Survive and Then Thrive

Troubleshooters Podcast
Troubleshooters Podcast
Finding a Way to Survive and Then Thrive
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In this month’s episode of the Troubleshooters Podcast, Michael speaks with Jacinta McCombe, the owner and founder of Nectar Cold Pressed. As a juice brand that was exposed mainly to the food service industry prior to the pandemic, Jacinta’s business was heavily impacted by the shutdowns in early 2020. Instead of succumbing to business challenges of the time, Jacinta and her team worked hard and found a way to survive when many around them couldn’t.

After remodelling the business during the lockdowns, today Jacinta’s business is thriving due in no small part due to the hard work she and her team put in during those difficult times. During our conversation Jacinta recounts what it took to survive and the steps she took that put her business in a good position coming out the other end of COVID.

I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jacinta, in my opinion the epitome of a real entrepreneur and Troubleshooter.

About Jacinta

Jacinta McCombe is the owner of Nectar Cold Pressed, a premium local juice brand that uses a slow juicing method that retains and locks-in the flavours and nutrients intact in the juice. After exiting her café business in Manly, Jacinta was introduced to cold pressed juice and, along with her sister Kimberly, established her own juice business in 2014.

Nectar Cold Pressed is a family owned and female led business that proudly champion Australian ingredients, from the farms that they work with all the way through to the packaging used for their products. They also donate all of their fruit and vegetable pulp to local NSW farmers to use as animal feed on their farms and in their land creating a perfect second life for over 500 tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually.

Contact Jacinta: jacinta@nectarcoldpressed.com.au

Transcript

Note: This has been automatically transcribed so is likely to have errors! It may however help you navigate the points of interests for you.

Michael: Hi, welcome to the Troubleshooters Podcast with me your host Mike McGrath. Jacinta McCombe is the founder and owner along with their sister Kimberly of Nectar Cold Pressed, a healthy juice brand that is now thriving here in Australia. And this wasn’t always the case. The business at the beginning of COVID hit some severe headwinds. They were supplying the food service sector, restaurants cafes and the like. That sector completely dropped off a cliff if you remember, particularly in early COVID. However, Jacinta and her team simply refuse to lay down and remodel their entire business. So join me as Jacinta unpacks how she survived against some unbelievable odds having now come through COVID She believes her business is stronger and better than it was before.

Michael: So Jacinta, Welcome to the Troubleshooters Podcast. Thank you. Thanks for joining us. Now you are the owner and you run Nectar Cold Pressed. You’re in the cold pressed juice manufacturing sector. That’s right. Okay, so how on earth did you end up doing that?

Jacinta: So way back in 2014, I previously owned a cafe on Manly Beach, and my sister was a chef, she chef’d all around the world. And she had moved to Sydney. And we were working together actually. And when I was selling the cafe, she said to me, come on, let’s there’s this big trend happening in the US. Let’s try and see if we can make cold pressed juice here. Let’s see what it tastes like. And at that time, I sort of didn’t want to have a bar, but I wanted to get out of the cafe and wanting to have a bit of time off. So after selling the cafe, I probably had about two months off as she kept me kept at me. And then we went to visit an old chef friend of both of ours in Melbourne. And he actually was in the cold pressed juice game. So he had a machine he showed us all the processes and we tasted it for the first time. And just the difference in the juice, the texture of the juice, the richness of the flavours. And I had been in it. I’d been selling juice in the cafe for the last six years, but my juice didn’t tasted like this cold pressed juice. Wow.

Michael: So Jacinta for the uninitiated, that don’t drink cold pressed juice, regularly what is it about cold pressed juice that really got you motivated.

Jacinta: So cold pressed juice is a slow juicing method. There’s no fast-spinning blades, there’s no friction on the produce no heat on the produce. So when the juice is grounded, ground down slowly and then pressed with a hydraulic press. So it drips out the bottom of the juicer. And it really keeps all the nutrients and enzymes intact. There’s no bubbles, there’s no fluffiness to this juice. It’s just rich, dense, nutritious tasting juice, like the texture of it sets it apart. So you can imagine getting a normal sort of freshly squeezed juice from a cafe where they’re putting the produce through the top spinning around making lots of noise and it comes out and it’s all bubbly and it separates really quickly. Our juice, the colour is vibrant, it doesn’t separate quickly. And you know, when you’re drinking, it’s just a different experience altogether.

Michael: So I get the story, right, you’ve got a cafe you sell it, you’ve had a couple of months off, your sister, interestingly, noticed that cold pressed juicing was taken off in the US. So she originated and sort of germinated the idea. You bump into a chef in Melbourne, it’s still a big jump from saying this is very tasty, to I think I’m going to start manufacturing and selling there. So what happened?

Jacinta: So what we did we actually got a smaller size of the machine we saw in Melbourne, we got a we got a homestyle one, we bought one machine and we started just making some samples on her kitchen bench. And you know, we were making green juice making carrot juice, beetroot. And because she was a chef, she sort of and she had done quite a bit of research, she sort of knew what flavours would work well, and what people were already really interested in overseas. So what we did was a couple of months, we got together a group of sort of friends and acquaintances from when I had the cafe and invited them all to a little tasting session and get their feedback. We had five flavours we’d made. And back then they were all super strong, like barely commercial. But that’s exactly the feedback we got. We asked everyone a heap of questions where everyone to taste all the flavours and then give us their feedback. And then we managed to lock in a friend of mine who had a cafe who was just serving coffee. So she was happy to put some of these jars in her fridge. We put them in little jars with handwritten labels just to see how they would sell. Back then they had a three-day shelf life. So by the time we made it delivered, it had to be sold within the next two days. And actually, that little cafe proved a success. They kept running out we kept making more juice handwriting all these labels and we’re like okay, so there’s obviously a market for it. Albeit it was a quite a niche market, these little jars are selling for upwards of $7 a jar. And then we just started looking into okay, if we’re going to make this for more people, it needs a longer shelf life. And that’s where we discovered high pressure process was a way of preserving the juice without ruining the integrity of the juice, maintaining the colour and flavour and texture with cold pressure.

Michael: So you were still making on your kitchen table. You were then having to cart it over to a third party, get that process done, it was giving you the shelf life. And then you started to get more customers did you?

Jacinta: My sort of role at that time was going to knock on all the cafe doors, introducing cold pressed juices because no one had a cold pressed juice machine in the café, explaining to them what the difference was getting them to taste it and then explain to them how we get the shelf life, and back then we were really challenged by what was already in there grab and go fridges which was more like back in those days Nudie or Emma and Tom’s all this sort of juices that they will flush pasteurised, or heat pasteurised. Okay, yeah. And that’s when they could when we got them to taste our juice, they could taste the difference. You could smell the difference. You could see the vibrant vibrancy of the colour. And you could taste the difference because it tasted fresh.

Michael: So what made you think that people were wanting to pay more and get a much higher quality better for you product? What was it that first session where you got your friends together? What was it? Or was it your instinct?

Jacinta: I think definitely it was our all of our friends and networks saying look, this is a great product. They all said make it tastes a little bit more commercial, because they very strong flavours our original flavours. They said, Look, if you can adapt the flavours and the profiles to be to suit more people, you’re going to get more people liking it more people wanting to try it. But it was a very hard sell at the start there. And we were expensive.

Michael: And it’s amazing how few companies adopt this particularly smaller companies just so smart to get some people together and do some actual tasting in your target market and get some feedback. It’s just, it’s very, very valuable, isn’t it? Because as you said, otherwise, you bring your own prejudice to the whole marketplace. And you think everybody’s like you, if you’re not careful. I know

Jacinta: You have to let go. And you just have to sort of welcome feedback and criticism, because otherwise you get to tunnel vision with your own idea that you know, you can be missing a massive amount of the market just because you don’t like a certain flavour, you know.

Michael: So I really love the fact that you started on your kitchen table as his so many good businesses get started that way, particularly in that better for you space, because, you know, people are becoming much more discerning about what they put in their bodies, right. And we don’t generally get the innovation from the larger guys. This podcast is called Troubleshooters. So we’re really interested in now, what do we do when stuff goes wrong? Because if you’ve been in business for a while, you realise that stuff going wrong is not an uncommon. But this is a really interesting part of your story. So you started the business in 13, you, you went through all the agony of getting it adopted and accepted and you went around the cafes. And then you had yourself a business by 15. And then you develop from there and then the pandemic hit. So Jacinta tell us what happened? Where were you focused? What was your market at that point? And then, and then tell us what happened in early COVID. And what you did about it,

Jacinta: Leading up to March 2020 when there was I guess the first shutdown locked down, and no one knew what was happening. Prior to that, so it’s been say, six good years of business for us growing and adapt. We had just pre in the previous October 2019 moved for the very first time into our own facility. But prior to that we’ve been sharing kitchens or sharing factories, sharing spaces, just purely because of the financial requirements have you so we bit the bullet in 2019 to finally move into our own factory in Brookvale and then not six months later was the pandemic. So for me who controls most of the finance side, I was just dying inside, like, how are we going to even manage this? We’re barely

Michael: so you’re taking on a new lease Jacinta right? You’d probably bought equipment, you’d say you’d paid your dues, you know, beg borrow and steal is the Entrepreneurial Handbook. And then you finally say Okay, it’s time and then within literally within five months, we’ve got a pandemic,

Jacinta: it was pretty unbelievable. So when it first hit, literally cuz we’re a better few products in the more premium space, the majority of our customers at that time were cafes and restaurants, hotels, the all of which just stopped overnight. So we had four rooms full of juice that there was no one to sell it to because everyone was closed. And I think most cafes and restaurants at that point, middle of middle to late March 2020, we’re closed for a minimum, a minimum of eight weeks, some of them started to reopen again. So we had nothing to produce. We had heaps of juice that we couldn’t sell to anyone. On top of that all of our juice has a shelf life. So for the eight weeks, we were close. We were going to lose eight weeks shelf life on juice that we have in our cool room. So we’re sort of lucky we had about two to three weeks buffer there because we had a little bit more shelf life. We just had, we just didn’t know when the next orders were going to come in from the cafes and restaurants.

Michael: So Jacinta let’s just contextualise that that’s pretty grim. Basically, your sales just fell off a cliff in that early pandemic, restaurants, cafes, hotels, probably the most dramatically hit sectors other than airlines at that point in the cycle. And, you know, I would say that the odds were not looking good at that stage. I mean, there’s not many businesses that can bounce back from that. So what on earth did you do, and take us through that thought process.

Jacinta: So initially, the easiest thing to do number one was just to turn all of our, or as much attention to possible as pushing sales throughout our website. But we can if we can push as many cells as we can through the website, we can at least get the

Michael: case. Okay, so you, you went online to try and get to that market that was ultimately drinking your juice. But you know that So you went from b2b to b2c? Did you have any online presence at that point? Or not?

Jacinta: Like we had a website, but really, we’ve always had a shop on our website, but we’ve never put any effort into driving sales because our relationships at all with the cafes and restaurants.

Michael: Okay, how did you solve the delivery aspect of that?

Jacinta: We just tried to do as much of it we ourselves, like we targeted these sort of areas where we had our own truck, or we could just physically deliver it ourselves. We still had staff, and we still had ourselves like for us to do as many as we could to save money. It was just trying not to pay any extra people.

Michael: So people would come on, play some orders, you deliver them basically, yeah. And you redeployed the staff that were previously doing other things. You were saying, Okay, let’s, let’s let’s deliver the product.

Jacinta: Honestly, at the start, the staff weren’t working, so there was nothing for them to do. Back then we still even two years ago, we had a lot of casual staff, which is a shame, because it would have been great to keep it give everyone a little bit of work. But there were some people that just decided, look, it’s easy for them not to work, and because eventually people could get subsidies. And

Michael: So you turned on a little bit of business through the website that started to grow. What else did you do? Because that wasn’t going to save you by itself? Was it?

Jacinta: No. So also, my husband and Kim’s husband, they put their heads together and decided, well, look, we have all this machinery here we’ve got filling machines. How about we bottle hand sanitizer, because a lot of people got into the hand sanitizer, new thing that everyone started to produce. So we, we teamed up with a local manufacturer of hand sanitizer, and they would send us say, a big IBC. And we would just bottle it into small bottles. And then we’d also push that out over the internet and sell that as well.

Michael: Wow, that’s fantastic. So you really, literally switched to survive. And you got into the hand sanitizer business? Because I mean, there was one thing that in that first quarter, you know, March, April, May, you couldn’t get hand sanitizer for love nor money, could you,

Jacinta: You know, that sort of that trend for us helped our cash flow for that, you know, eight week period 100% Because it gave us some liquidity coming in, we had bills to pay, we had supplies still that were waiting for money. I must admit that everyone was in the same situation at that point. So it wasn’t like people were ringing up begging you for money, you have to pay it because everyone was in the same scenario.

Michael: So that helped you for eight to 10 weeks, then what?

Jacinta: Eight to 10 weeks after some of the grocer started reopening. Some of the cafe started doing just take away and then a lot of our business just started moving towards the single use bottles not because we do 300 mil bottles then we have a food service range of 1.5 litre range, which a lot of the cafes were using. But they all then switched to just because everyone was doing just takeaway. No one was doing dine-in. So there’s a little bit by little bit some business started again. Fortunately, one of our customers is a premium grocery chain here in Sydney. And they, of course were busy during the pandemic, as things started to open up again, that we found an uplift in sales in that channel because the independent grocers We’re all busier than usual because no one had cafes to go to

Michael: They were one of the lucky winners, weren’t they the grocers.

Jacinta: 100 percent. So, you know, as that started to turn the corner as well, we started to see, okay, more of our sales were coming from that channel. And yes, the cafes and restaurants were still very, very quiet, if not some of them never reopened, which was very sad. But then we focus more on Okay, so what different ranges can we make for these independent grocers? You know, like IGAs, Harris Farm, things like that, because they’re all seeing busier than usual revenue at this time.

Michael: And so you began to move your product into those independent grocers and those multisite chains. And that’s where you continue to serve today, right through those channels,

Jacinta: Actually, now, since we actually place more focused on that channel now, so that our distribution is more diverse. So it used to be solely food service, cafes, restaurants, hotels, with only a couple sort of a little bit of presence in grocers, now we sort of focus on grocers and retail more so that we have a more even split across those channels. So that we’re not focused, just do we’re not solely dependent on just one income stream. Okay.

Michael: I mean, COVID went for longer than we all thought we thought in the first year, you know, we were as we came into the second year of COVID, I think we all, you know, had hoped that we sort of put it behind this when it turned out we hadn’t quite done that with that new variant. How did you survive? And how are you coming out of it? Would you say the business is stronger now than when you went into COVID?

Jacinta: I think we’re definitely stronger, because we have a more open mind about how to run our business, and how not to get tunnel vision just by certain ideas. It made us look at all of our processes and look at how many staff we have, the way we’re doing things, how can we do things more efficiently and effectively with less people? Packaging, and where we sourcing with literally in March and April, May of 2020, we’ve looked at every single facet of our business because we weren’t making any juice. We’re like, okay, what can we change here that if this happens, again, we have some sort of safety nets and ways of operating so that we’re not so affected by one shutdown?

Michael: Yeah. So basically, you took that first hit that, what was it, April, May, June, you you got busy and said, Okay, how do we look at this business differently? How do we do things better?

Jacinta: We did a lot of groundwork, then actually, between Kim and I and our both of our husbands, we really just all put our heads together. Because you know, the first week or two or maybe even first month, it was such a shock that there was nothing happening. We’re like, Okay, this isn’t going to be the end of our business. And there’s more to our business than just servicing cafes and restaurants. And then to be more if we want to continue into the future.

Michael: So really, that was a was almost a mindset, a decision that you made, irrespective of what was coming next. It was almost a decision that a refusal to lie down really.

Jacinta: Yeah. And so we’ve had some we had some really tough conversations like, I remember, I think it was about May, our accountant put a spreadsheet together for us to show us the months ahead for the next 12 months. And potentially, if our sales tracked the way they had been, how long could we last. And I remember at the bottom of the spreadsheet, it would have like the total column after all expenses, and it was red, red, red, red, red. And then it was red for so many months until our sales will start to grow again, then suddenly we go to yellow, then we go to green. And I remember looking at that spreadsheet thinking, oh my gosh, it’s going to be a really hard 12 months. But we got to the September, and our reds suddenly turn yellow, and then green before we even hit summer of 2020. So I guess because we focus so much on Okay, what else can we make for these channels that are open and that are thriving? Can we offer them different size juicers, different types of ranges that we actually were making, the majority of our production was going into these Harris Farm Stores and IGA is because people were buying so much more from they were buying a 300ml range, but then we put in a one litre range. We put in different ranges to Harris Farm specifically. And that actually put our business on an upward trajectory before summer hit in 2020. So it was very, I think that really scared me when I saw that original spreadsheet from our accountant, all of us we’ll get it going. I don’t know if we can even make it that far.

Michael: It’s interesting thing Jacinta, I meet lots of business owners that don’t forecast. Right. And we think it’s a mistake. The good thing about a forecast is it can, it can help stimulate interesting conversations about what we need to do. Because as you said it can it can look pretty dire at certain points. But it sounds like I mean, certainly I remember coming out of that. April, May, June was shocking. And then the world got moving again, sort of August, September time where the malls opened again. And, you know, clearly, that move into Harris Farms, and some of the other grocers set you up really for, you know, what turned out to be not nothing like the spreadsheet was telling you.

Jacinta: Yeah. Oh, my goodness, it wasn’t like the spreadsheet. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking right now. I don’t think,

Michael: Yeah, isn’t that great? Well, it’s such a, it’s a wonderful story of survival, really, against extraordinary odds. I mean, to be 100%, exposed to the food service sector, in early 2020. And to be able to come through that pivot, you know, remodel the business, figure out a way to, you know, survive. I think he’s a credit to you and your sister, and your husband’s. So fair play. It’s a big team effort. And are you still in Brookviale? Right? Okay. And you still manufacturing there? And you’re?

Jacinta: Yeah, we’re still manufacturing, we’re still growing, we’re still looking at different ways, we can now move forward and scale our business for the next sort of two to five years.

Michael: Yes, now look, let’s have a chat about the better for you space because I’m on the board of a company called Loving Earth that are into organic plant-based chocolate. So I know a little bit about this space. And one of the difficulties with really good produce, and really good is that our supply chain is often more expensive, because we’re in a higher quality market. How are you finding the markets receptivity to your selling prices and having to,

Jacinta: Of late it’s been tough, right? All the fruit and veg prices have gone through the roof. And we’re 100% just fruit and veg. So we’ve got nowhere to hide. So we’ve actually just first time ever have increased the price of our juices, that we haven’t done that since inception. So the whole time leading up to this year, we’ve always been about, okay, how can we manufacture more efficiently to bring our price down to be on the shelf at the right price for the, for consumers because everyone takes their clip on the way. So it’s the first year because of all the fruit and veg prices that we’ve actually put our price up. But in saying that everybody’s doing it. You have to. Petrol prices, logistics, brokerage?

Michael: Have your customers put them up? So is that am I paying more for my Nectar Cold Press 300ml bottle, whatever it is?

Jacinta: Look, you know, we’ve just said it recently, actually, and I haven’t noticed that people have put that up. On most people, I guess, if you’re going to a cafe, for example, you’re grabbing, their fridge to probably put anywhere between 40 to 50%.

Michael: Generally, a lot of them have absorbed your increase, because they’ve got quite a bit of margin, as you said, 40/50%. Some of them yeah, interesting, but you made the move. You had to make the move. As you said, there’s been nowhere to hide in with some of these food prices has there.

Jacinta: No, look, look, especially our green juice, we pride ourselves on our quality and what goes into every single green juice that we make. And it’s our most expensive juice to produce every production. So we really rely on some of the other flavours to cover some of that margin so that we can keep our juice at that quality. And now right now, our green juice margin is pretty dire. But we’re just waiting for everything else to fall back in line. And with this small price increase that we did, it’s enough to keep it still making us a little bit of margin as long as you make the full margin on all the other flavours.

Michael: So you’ve taken some hits but the blended margin means you’re still in the game. Yeah, yeah. Okay. And so what’s the future of better for you because the market doesn’t everybody wants better for you? Yeah, not everybody wants to pay for it, do they? What’s the future for the better for you food and beverage space?

Jacinta: Yeah, I think we’re in a bit of a market where, so all of our juices have a sugar content, but it’s all naturally occurring sugar from the fruit and vegetable we use. And we say that on the label. Our better for you space is becoming Oh, I think we’re in a good spot. We’ve been around long enough now. I think we have the reputation people know what they get when they buy Nectar Cold Pressed. You know we’ve been around for this is our eighth year. It’s been a lot of cold pressed juice companies that have come and gone over the years. We’re really looking at trying to form some really good partnerships with other brands that are also in the better few space that want to offer a clean beverage option with their meals. So for example, when you look at places like Roll’d and Grill’d and GYG they’re all, they’re clean healthy food, and we want to be that company that slides in there as the clean beverage option that accompanies their healthy offering. Because all of those companies are all contracted up with Coke or Schweppes, or those sorts of companies that just take over the fridge space. And they’re better for you product is a pasteurised apple juice or orange juice, which is nothing what people who are buying an 11 or $12 burger or burrito or healthy food should be able to buy a $5 good better for you juice

Michael: and Jacinta do you see the mainstream market? more open to you. You said in the early days, it was the hard sell. Would you say the opportunity to begin to open up where people are saying okay, there is a demand for this. I can’t ignore it anymore.

Jacinta: I believe it’s opening up I still don’t believe it’s everybody’s willing to pay for it yet. There is one juice brand in Coles and Woollies that is cold pressed and high pressure processed. It’s the Impressed brand. And that’s sort of like the benchmark. I guess for commercial cold pressed juice. We were at a different level to them again. So I think it’s getting there. I think maybe another year or two. And people will be happy to pay $4.50 or $5 for a fruit and vegetable 100% cold pressed juice.

Michael: Do you know who your consumers are a kid’s drinking? Are mom’s buying it for the kids what’s going on.

Jacinta: So a lot of moms are buying it buying it for their kids as well. And a lot of customers say to us, I can’t get my I can’t get my kids to eat carrots, but they’ll do your Eagle Eye juice and it’s 50% carrot you know. So definitely mums, its health-conscious people, you know, 25- to 50-year-olds wanting to have a good, convenient, healthy option at their disposal. And know that what they’re putting into their body know that they’re not putting in preservatives and additives. And it’s just on every single label that we have. You can see the exact percentage of every fruit and vegetable that we put in the bottle.

Michael: Well, Jacinta McCombe it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. You are without doubt a dead set 42 karat gold troubleshooter to have survived COVID being 100% exposed to foodservice and coming through that and now thriving and being better and stronger than you were before. You deserve a great deal of credit. And I’m so grateful you’ve come and shared your story. And I hope many others can get encouragement from that story and be inspired Jacinta.

Jacinta: Thanks so much for having me.

Michael: It’s a pleasure and look after yourself. Until next time, stay safe.

Jacinta: Thank you, you too.

Michael: Wow, I think you sent us mindset is the epitome of how we need to think when we run into trouble. Talk about resilient. Now if you want to know more about your centre, and net to cold pressed juice, the details will be in the show notes. Quick shout out to our sponsors, Oasis Partners, corporate advisors that specialise in helping business owners unlock the value in their businesses. So if you’re thinking of succession, and what it all means, call the guys at Oasis. Finally, if you like this content, subscribe and tell your friends and if you’re really feeling generous, give us a review. Until next time, thanks for listening.