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Genesis Juice hopes for new beginning after FDA squeeze.

Byline: RETAIL NOTEBOOK By Joe Mosley The Register-Guard

A pulse has been detected at the old Genesis Juice Cooperative warehouse.

The Eugene counterculture favorite took its products off retailers' shelves and stopped production in February, following pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to comply with new health rules and pasteurize its juices, a step Genesis objected to.

"A few weeks after we pulled out of stores, a friend of ours put up fliers all around town, saying we still had carrots and stuff," says Benjamin Cutler, one of the co-op's four owners.

About a hundred people placed orders, and Genesis made a few batches of juice. Then a few more. And then the direct-sales strategy spread to the Genesis website (www.genesis-juice.com), and the company began selling juice at the Eugene Farmers' Market and other public gatherings.

The 30-year-old health food fixture just kept clinging on.

"The volume's pretty low right now; it's not very sustainable," Cutler says. "But we've gotten some help from our landlord, and some people around town, too. It's difficult to pay the bills right now, but the more we've been doing this, the better sales have been."

As it turns out, direct sales are exempt from the new FDA rules that require pasteurization of all juices sold at retail. The rules were adopted in the wake of a 1996 outbreak of E.coli that was traced to nonpasteurized juice made by Odwalla, a California juice maker.

Odwalla and several other producers complied. But Genesis resisted, its owners maintaining that heat pasteurization kills as much as 60 percent of the vitamin content and healthful enzymes of raw juice.

Genesis Juice has remained both raw and law-abiding in its direct-sales incarnation. But its future is likely to include a new form of pasteurization and a return to retailers' shelves - potentially before the end of this year.

"We tried to sell the business, and there were no buyers," says Dale Hart, another of the owners, as he works on a recent batch of carrot juice. "So we don't have a lot of alternatives."

The new pasteurization technique, which uses a high-intensity electronic field rather than heat to eliminate pathogens from juice, has been tentatively approved by the FDA but has not yet been put to business use.

So the Genesis owners are negotiating with Ohio State University - along with financial institutions - to buy equipment and field-test the procedure that has been developed at the Columbus, Ohio, campus.

Meanwhile, the company hopes to remain viable through the summer.

About 60 gallons a week - mostly of carrot juice, lemonades and almond nectars - are being sold from the warehouse and via the Internet, with prepaid remote orders being left at cooperating stores from Eugene to Portland for customers to pick up.

At the company's peak, it was producing 300 gallons a week of apple juice alone, plus 100 gallons a week of carrot juice, and nearly that much lemonade.

Before its shutdown, Genesis had 18 employees in addition to its four worker-owners.

It is now operating on a sporadic production schedule with just the four owners and a handful of volunteers. The office at 325 W. Third Ave., is open only from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And no one is getting paid.

But the alternative really isn't one - liquidation of the company's equipment at perhaps 10 cents on the dollar.

"It would be a shame to see such an institution die," Hart said. "So we decided to bite the bullet and keep it going until we can get a pasteurization unit."

Retail Notebook runs Thursdays.

CAPTION(S):

Ground carrots are gathered in preparation for pressing at Genesis Juice in Eugene. The company is trying to acquire a new type of pasteurization equipment so it can resume selling its products in stores. Chris Hallett, one of the owners, feeds carrots into a grinder.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 10, 2004
Words:651
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