When it comes to fruit juices and smoothies, consumers in the Philippines can’t get enough. The overall market in the Southeast Asian country is estimated to be worth nearly US $700 million in 2021, growing at an annual percentage of almost 8% in the next five years.
A growing segment of discerning consumers prefer healthy juices, sourced from organic fruits and vegetables that have little to no added sugar. Lifestyle choices like juice cleanses and superfoods are also helping fuel this category. That’s the type of Filipino consumer that Pure Nectar targets.
Pure Nectar offers contemporary cold-pressed juicing both through its online store and a network of 300 distribution outlets spread across the country. Their combination sets such as the Immunity Essentials, Juice Cleanse Sets, and Go for Green are popular draws.
Arielle Escalona, the co-founder of Pure Nectar, explains how entrepreneurship runs in her blood. Her father, a medical doctor by training, pursued entrepreneurship his entire life with business interests in food, textiles, and more. His biggest success, however, was Fruit Magic, a local fruit juice company that he scaled from 5 branches to 70 nationwide after acquiring it in 1999.
“When I entered the business, it was only supposed to be temporary. It was supposed to be a bridging job after graduating from college and finding work in the corporate sector. But my love for travel and adventure grew my horizons,” explains Arielle.
“My father asked me to apply my learnings from college for marketing, and revamp the entire strategy. I'm also a designer, so I’m skilled in Photoshop and other softwares. So that was my starting point. I changed all the menus, the design of the store. And then later on, I realized that there was this [subscription] business that I was really impressed with. You pay for the entire week in advance, giving business the liquidity it needs.”
Pivoting to Natural and Cold-Pressed Juices
After studying subscription-based food businesses such as meal plans and deliveries, Arielle came up with the idea to bottle their proprietary fruit shakes and market them as a new product category. However, it wasn’t as simple as blending the juices and transferring them to bottles for later delivery. There’s an entire body of science that helps with food preservation and quality so that it can retain its freshness for a few days.
These were new operational needs that Arielle and team had not familiarized themselves with.
In an effort to educate themselves, Arielle and her father flew to a food convention in the U.S. where they were able to research cold-pressed juices far more effectively. After their return to the Philippines, they ordered an industrial machine necessary to start this process and were up and running within three months. The idea was to create a separate brand, different from Fruit Magic and move it upmarket.
“There were so many revisions and changes not only in the design and branding, but also in the systems, flavor development and the manufacturing process. We changed the name from Fruit Magic to Sap Juicery and eventually retained Pure Nectar. We created flavors backed up with science and research through our in-house doctors and nutritionists."
"Flavors were especially crafted for the Filipino lifestyle and taste, with the firm idea of serving beverages with absolutely no additives, preservatives and artificial sugars. The biggest challenge was finding the best system to keep the product at its best state from production to delivery, to stores and to our customers,” adds Arielle.
Growing in Retail
The initial strategy for Pure Nectar was to place its collection of fresh juices and drinks in malls, alongside existing Fruit Magic stores. Its big break came after a client fell in love with the product and helped them lock a retail contract with convenience stores in Shell gas stations. Pure Nectar was stocked at over 70 locations with plans to grow to 600 eventually. While the pandemic forced a rethink, the goal is still to reach that target soon.
“When people started seeing our products in Shell Deli2Go, that's when we really gained a lot more credibility. We actually opened in Brunei in 2018 and in Singapore in 2019,” says Arielle.
As demand for Pure Nectar picked up offline, so did online searches and queries. That’s despite the fact that e-commerce in the Philippines was still in its nascency. The fact that not many people used credit cards coupled with multiple scams in the country dissuaded Arielle from diving into the opportunity. Nonetheless, she continued researching firstly trying her luck with free to use platforms.
“We set up our own ecommerce store and I had it coded by a website developer. But I was extremely stressed as the back end was just too complicated. We had to manually extract every order. But then the whole process was just really stressful to the point that I wouldn't even really recommend our customers to order there. And I would just tell them to call instead,” she recalls.
Shopify: The Game Changer
Arielle isn’t one to give up or take no for an answer. Despite the initial challenges, she knew there was a solution to her problem out there. Shopify appealed to her because it was a plug and play platform that didn’t require a high degree of technical sophistication or training to get started with.
“I started watching many YouTube videos and resorted to Googling answers. If there were problems, I’d hop on to live chat with Shopify representatives. Slowly, I started to prevail,” she recalls.
Arielle learned by observing others around her, too. In her spare time she had built a digital agency, helping clients out with social media campaigns. One of her clients had an ecommerce company and that helped Pure Nectar’s online strategies immensely. Arielle’s father, however, was more inclined to invest money in the traditional retail opportunity. After all, it had served the company very well for decades; why fix something that’s not broken?
The pandemic and forced closure of retail stores changed things dramatically. Marketing budgets were reallocated to digital channels, since the online store was the only one allowed to stay open. All of a sudden, Arielle had a 500% higher budget for Facebook and Google ads leading to over 425% increase in online sales alone.
“I went all out on social media and search platforms.”
Arielle personally manages all her paid marketing activity including running ads and optimizing them for maximum return on ad spend. She says her ads average about 12 ROAS with high rates of repeat purchases.
“What’s great about Shopify is, it’s so seamless. If there are any problems, you can contact their customer service and they can help fix the issues right away. My team and I can focus on more important things like product quality, development, delivery and overall customer service.”
Arielle’s go-to Shopify apps are Judge.me for reviews and testimonials and Smile for loyalty campaigns.
“Shopify is so user-friendly, it’s awesome. My team and I can keep track of all customer activities and analytics real-time. I can adjust any detail or feature on the website anytime hassle-free! Because it is so easy to use, all the members in my team can access and manage all the necessary customer information to fulfill orders.”
Ecommerce is now a critical acquisition and growth channel for Pure Nectar and there are plans to grow the offering in the near future.
“We were very strict with our budgets for digital, but since the pandemic ecommerce has really saved us. If it weren't for this and we closed all our stores, we wouldn't be able to pay overhead expenses by now,” explains Arielle.
A subscription-based product is also in the works, but Arielle says the operational challenges make it a complex endeavor. Since Pure Nectar offers 30-40 different kinds of raw and unpasteurized beverages, it’s hard to build that into a subscription model. Nonetheless she hasn’t given up and is confident that this hurdle will be overcome soon, too.
“I’ve always believed that living a healthy lifestyle can be fun and enjoyable, and that nourishment is the secret to a happy life. It was always my goal to convince people that highly nutritional products can also taste great! With that in mind, we are motivated to inspire more people to lead healthier, happier lives through our products.”
Loyalty programs have also helped Pure Nectar scale to where it is today and the plan is to double down on those.
“Filipinos like points. They like freebies. So if they're going to get something out of their order for their next order, they seem to really work for it. We have customers who have thousands of points and they really save it up so that they can redeem freebies,” says Arielle.
Gifts is another channel that Pure Nectar is eyeing. Arielle says how people placed orders on the site, putting a note at checkout that the order was meant to be a gift.
Advice for others
Given Arielle’s experience in building online stores, what advice would she give to others just starting out?
The trick is to just start, she explains.
“It may seem overwhelming at the start, but it’s actually really not that difficult. There are so many videos and instructional materials on the internet to help and guide you through the whole process. You’ll learn a lot of things as you launch your Shopify store and you’ll adjust a lot of features as you get to learn more about your customers. I still constantly edit our website to improve overall customer experience,” maintains Arielle.