New beginning for Genesis.
Byline: RETAIL NOTEBOOK By Joe Mosley The Register-Guard
The company has refused to die, and its owners have refused to compromise on what they consider to be their products' greatest virtues.
And now, Genesis Juice is back.
"We had our debut at the Oregon Country Fair (earlier this month), and we were well-received," says Genesis co-owner Claudia Sepp. "I was told people were crying, though I didn't see that myself."
Tears of joy aside, the hope among Genesis owners and employees is that customers will remember Eugene's homegrown juice company when its products return to retailers' shelves beginning this weekend.
Genesis took its juices off store shelves and suspended production in February 2004, following pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to comply with new health rules and pasteurize its products.
The company refused to subject its juices to normal pasteurization procedures, which its owners maintain would destroy most of the vitamin content and healthful enzymes in raw juice.
"We've always been about nutrition, and we've always been about taste," Sepp says. "When you heat something, it knocks both of those out of the realm of possibility."
But FDA officials put Genesis in touch with researchers at Ohio State University, who were developing a new pasteurization technique that uses a high-intensity electronic field rather than heat to eliminate pathogens from juice.
After eight months of testing, the process has proved effective and won FDA approval. Genesis negotiated a lease with the university for the nonthermal pasteurization equipment and took on a new investor - who doesn't want to be publicly identified - to update other equipment and put the newly restarted company on solid financial footing.
"It was a long, lean time, and hopefully that's over," says Dale Hart, Sepp's partner and co-owner of 30 percent of the reconfigured company. The anonymous investor controls the remaining 70 percent.
The FDA's new pasteurization 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 companies later went to a flash-pasteurization process that utilizes limited-duration heating to kill pathogens, but Genesis held out for the nonthermal alternative.
"Once they taste us, we hope our customers will come back," Sepp says.
Genesis products were on most grocery store shelves in the Eugene area and the company was reaching into the Portland area before it stopped operation last year.
Its owners will ease back into business with their juices going to just five Eugene stores in the coming week: Sundance Natural Foods at 748 E. 24th Ave., The Kiva at 125 W. 11th Ave., New Frontier Market at 1101 W. 8th Ave., Friendly Street Market at 2757 Friendly St., and Capella Market at 2489 Willamette St.
"We hope to go back into all the venues we were in before," Sepp says. "It's just being able to manage the growth."
New, mechanized bottling, labeling and safety-sealing equipment will eventually increase production capacity, and the nonthermal pasteurization will result in a longer shelf-life for Genesis products than the earlier, raw versions.
"So we'll be able to travel farther afield," Sepp says. "We hope to go to Seattle, to Berkeley, and to points between."
But for now, the production, marketing and management crew consists of Sepp, Hart and three longtime Genesis employees.
The company is starting with a menu of seven all-organic juices: apple, apple-strawberry, carrot, carrot-celery-beet, herbal tonic, strawberry lemonade and ginger lemonade.
Retailers expect an enthusiastic - if not tearful - reception from customers.
"I'm thrilled," says George Brown, owner of The Kiva. "I don't know where it's going to go, but we'll find space for it.
"People were saddened and stunned when they were shut down. We heard comments about it for months. It may take awhile for it to build up again, but it won't take them long."
Emily Daoust, manager of the New Frontier Market, says Genesis has traditionally been a "huge seller," and customers are likely to come back to the brand quickly.
Genesis Juice first appeared in Eugene's natural food stores in 1973. The company was purchased by its employees in 1977 and operated as a co-op for the next 27 years. It returned to private ownership for this year's re-entry into the retail marketplace.
Retail Notebook runs on Thursdays. Joe Mosley can be reached at 338-2384 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Genesis Juice is expected to be in stores in the coming week.