South Jersey business: Kraft Heinz ‘incubates’ Laurel Springs almond juice companyAugust 12, 2019 by Springboard Brands
When Jacob Deleon founded his South Jersey almond milk company in 2016, things couldn’t have been more hands-on.
The millennial entrepreneur “squeezed’’ imported organic Spanish almonds with a turbo-prop blender in a converted space inside a Magnolia fire house, creating rich, flavored almond milks that quickly caught on at farmers markets, purveyors such as HeartBeet in Westmont and at Whole Foods tastings.
Since then, the young CEO and Drexel grad has had success with Origin Almond, first getting his flavored almond milks (such as Thai coconut or turmeric) from the Cherry Hill Whole Foods’ maker space, The Hatchery, onto that supermarket’s drink shelves.
For a decade before Origin Almond’s launch, Deleon worked to promote Starbucks and Proctor & Gamble products. Now, his Laurel Springs-based startup is getting a big boost another heavy-hitting corporation, Kraft Heinz Company.
The Laurel Springs startup, which has transitioned from almond milks to cold-pressed almond juices, has been selected by Kraft Heinz Company for its second Springboard Incubator program, offering Origin Almond funding, mentoring and other support to grow Deleon’s business.
Kraft Heinz Co., one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, is responsible for brands including Philadelphia, Capri Sun, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Maxwell House and many more. Origin Almond is one of five startups selected for its Springboard program, which launched last March for entrepreneurial ventures the corporation views as market “disrupters.’’
In announcing the 2019 members, Kraft Heinz said Springboard “was created to help nurture and develop the next generation of food and beverage brands, while staying close to entrepreneurs, new ideas and consumer trends.” In addition to Origin Almond, the other startups selected include: Blake’s Seed Based snack bars, BRAMI lupini bean snacks, Ka-Pop! Ancient inGRAINed Snack Co., and Tiny Giants plant-based yogurts.
Brands accepted into the program receive $50,000 in funding when acceptance, with an opportunity to get $50,000 more during the course of Springboard, according to the program website.
For Deleon, 36, who has grown his brand one customer at a time, the opportunity could mean his company could go national, or even international.
Origin Almond cold-pressed almond juice comes in five flavors: Iced Lemon Chai, Ginger & Tumeric Golden-Mylk, Lemon Ginger 360 degree cleanse, Super Greens 4 and Thai Coconut Pina-Colada. The company is based in Laurel-Springs. (Photo: Origin Almond)
Reached by phone last week, Deleon said he struggled with his weight as a child and is committed to evolving his product to be an even healthier “juice alternative’’ that will shake up the market.
“We see that more consumers are becoming aware of the hidden sugars found in perceived healthy foods, like fruit juices, and have shunned them altogether.’’
“I am super excited my startup was selected. They want to make this a true partnership, not just them being teacher and us the student,’’ he said. “We want to figure out a way to make (the juices) even more taste-friendly for even more people, not just those into those super-duper healthy drinks, and work within their supply chain to make it even more affordable.
He will spend several months at company offices in Chicago to participate in the program, he said.
“The program is basically to help brands like me to scale up and grow quickly using the power of a large, mass market food corporation,’’ he continued. “At the same time, I am teaching their team how I do things as a small business, how I am able to move so fast but also out compete other competitors in the market even though I am one thousandth the size of them!’’
Jacob Deleon, founder of Origin Almond, selling his original almond milks at the Collingswood Farmers Market. (Photo: Origin Almond)
To get his original product, an unpasteurized full-fat almond milk, into retail outlets, Deleon evolved it from a sweet beverage that market customers were warned they must consume within a few days to a more stable drink with less sugar that would that would last longer on supermarket shelves.
Through research and experimentation, Deleon came up with his current product, a raw, cold-pressed almond juice that contains less sugar than either the original almond milks or many competing beverages, he said.
“It’s a very different business,’’ he said. “It was a fresh-made product, but the shelf life was very short, less than five days. In order to go for a large, wholesale business, you need a longer shelf life and people have to buy it. You don’t want to worry about things like things going bad or safety.’’
Today, Almond Original juices are available at the region’s Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic markets, as well as at Dean’s Natural Markets in the New York suburbs and Central Markets in Texas. While the company is still based in South Jersey, the quantity of almonds needed for retail production and the technology required to produce juice meant moving production to Newark, Deleon said.
As he seeks to take Origin Almond to a wider audience, Deleon said he’s committed to keeping taste at the forefront.
“We didn’t skimp on the quality,’’ he said. “Both products are still raw; we never use any heat in the process. It has a fresh, clean taste as opposed to some others out there in the market. It has a crisp flavor to it.’’
Jacob Deleon creator of Origin Almond uses organic, unpasteurized Spanish almonds to produce his almond juices. (Photo: Courier-Post file)
Origin Almond customers can choose a Lemon Ginger 360 Degree Cleanse, “the better version of those juice cleanses people were doing a few years ago. Ours is only 1 gram of sugar,’’ Deleon said. Other flavors include Thai Coconut Pina Colada, Ginger & Tumeric Golden Mylk and Lemon Iced Chai.
“And we have our own version of the popular green juices. Our own version (Super Greens 4) has four super greens, and a fraction of the sugar.’’ The beverages are keto, paleo, vegan and are gluten and soy free.
Deleon said Origin Almond will not break the bank at $4.99 for a 12 oz. bottle. “This isn’t Goop. We want to make it more affordable for people,’’ he said.
Origin Almond was one of five companies selected from “hundreds and hundreds,’’ he said.
“I wish I could tell you that I knew an insider or exec at Kraft. I applied like everyone else … It was spread through industry news, and it was an open call to apply. I just went to the website and filled out an application. And I had to give them a video to ‘meet the founder.’ ’’
Origin Almond founder Jacob Deleon mentors Soulfull Project team members during the Food Bank of South Jersey’s 2016 Hunger Games cooking competition. Now, Deleon’s company is being mentored by Kraft/Heinz corporation to help grow the startup. (Photo: Courier-Post file)
Whatever happens with the Kraft Heinz program, Deleon says he is excited to be part of a growing Philadelphia-area natural foods scene, citing brands such as La Colombe at the forefront.
“We are going into a culinary revolution from the packaged national foods perspective, and we are starting to be more known for much more than water ice and cheesesteaks and Gritty. I’m hoping to really make a mark with Philly.’’
Origin Almond cold-pressed juices are offered in a refrigerator case at a Wynwood, Pa., Whole Foods. Locally, you can find Origin products at Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic in South Jersey. (Photo: Origin Almond)
DeLeon also is proud to be the only minority-owned business chosen in this round of The Springboard program.
“I am a first-generation immigrant, I come from a first-generation family,’’ he said. “My parents and I emigrated from the Philippines when I was 2 or 3 years old, and I became a citizen a few years later.
“Out of their sweat, coming to the U.S. with nothing, we were able to build something almost from thin air. It’s amazing how far their kid has progressed. It’s the American dream – coming to this amazing country with nothing and work hard to do something on your own.’’
For more information
The Origin Almond products are available in Whole Foods Markets, Dean’s Markets and Mom’s Organic Markets in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Visit https://www.OriginAlmond.com/where-to-buy