The 78 Corridor may be best known for its progressive culinary scene and an impressive lineup of craft breweries, but there is great diversity across the region’s food and beverage industry that is worth exploring.
Whether it’s a bakery-turned-cafe with deep southern roots, the nation’s largest independent producer of cold-pressed juices, or a startup innovating new ingredients that will feed the next generation of plant-based foods, businesses along the 78 Corridor offer something for every taste and dietary preference.
Below we take a closer look at three food and beverage businesses that are serving up everything from one-of-a-kind desserts to protein-packed juice cleanses.
Wellness in a Bottle
In 2016, the largest independent producer of cold-pressed juices moved its business and manufacturing operations to the city of Oceanside. Today, Suja Life LLC operates from two facilities totaling 171,000 square feet and employs more than 250 people.
“Every time we’ve moved into a new production facility, we were overcapacity by the time the build-out was complete,” said Bella Tumini, Senior Brand Manager for Suja who has been with the company since it started. “We needed a space big enough to build a traditional manufacturing facility where we could have our offices, our innovation team, our sales team, and our manufacturing operations all together.”
Suja was one of the first companies to use High Pressure Processing (HPP) to cold-press its juices, which keeps nutrients intact, maintains fresh taste, and extends juice shelf life to 60-90 days. While HPP is a more expensive and time-consuming pasteurizing method than high heat, it allows Suja to deliver products that are superior in taste and quality. With its HPP machines and expertise on-site, Suja is now an FDA training site for HPP technology.
Over the past seven years, Suja has taken the beverage market by storm. It currently sells more than 50 different cold-pressed juices, juice cleanses and functional shots that can do everything from boost immunity to ease digestion. One of the company’s best sellers is an earthy green juice called Uber Greens, which is like a salad in a bottle with a very low sugar count. Suja’s products are sold at major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Costco and at smaller all-natural and neighborhood grocers like Whole Foods, Jimbos, Frazier Farms, and Sprouts. In 2018, Suja surpassed $100 million in revenue and plans for annual double-digit growth.
Suja sources roughly 60 percent of the organic produce it uses locally. According to Tumini, being in Oceanside makes it easy for the company to procure that produce and manage product distribution. With its central location along the 78 Corridor, Suja has access to all of the region’s organic farms and sits at the perfect point to receive produce and ship products out.
The company is deeply engaged with social influencers, foodies and bloggers who follow the Suja brand. Social listening helps the company identify trends as they happen, as it recently did amidst the celery juice craze. When Suja observed the trend surging across its social network, it responded by bringing a celery juice product to market in eight weeks’ time.
“One of the things that makes Suja unique is that we’ve managed to stay small and scrappy, especially when it comes to innovation,” said Tumini. “We’ve been able to take a lot of the great things about process and structure from our partnerships (with Coca Cola and Goldman Sachs), particularly in the areas of quality and manufacturing, while staying true to our vision and what our customers want.”
Next month, Suja will release a new line of functional juices called Elevated Nutrients which are chef-crafted blends that combine the delicious flavor of cold-pressed juice with key vitamins, minerals, and functional ingredients. Each Elevated Nutrients drink will deliver a different benefit like energized focus, immunity, detox, and beauty.
A Hometown Bakery with a Modern Twist
A graphic artist by trade, Reilly built a successful business providing creative services to the real estate market. After the recession in 2008 left her client-less, she redirected her talents to the art of cake decorating. Reilly purchased Gloria’s Bakery in 2010 and rebranded as Cute Cakes. She operated from the 1,200 square foot commercial space for the next five years before purchasing a spacious, multi-purpose site in Escondido’s historic downtown district.
“We outgrew our original space very quickly. The previous business had been around for quite a while and really just needed some new life and excitement breathed into it,” said Jill Reilly. “It was just myself and two others who came with the business doing creative new cake and, within a year, almost doubled our sales.”
When her lease was up, Reilly found her dream location on Grand Avenue in Escondido’s historic downtown district, a spacious but quaint storefront that provided ample room to diversify and grow her business. With 6,400 square foot of real estate to work with, she built out a commercial kitchen, an espresso bar and café dining area that serves both sweet and savory menu items as well as a grab-and-go pastry case featuring cakes, brownies, cupcakes, cookies, and pies. Cute Cakes also has several dedicated rooms for wedding cake tastings and private parties, plus a classroom where she teaches themed workshops and hosts cake decorating birthday parties for kids. Since diversifying her gourmet sweets business, she has grown to 35 employees.
“Grand Avenue is thriving and has attracted some wonderful new businesses to the area. We now have a wine tasting room and a few breweries and it’s become a popular destination point in our little community,” said Reilly. “It’s much like the southern hometown atmosphere that I grew up in with that same friendly feel and a strong sense of community.”
Cute Cakes also provides dessert and full-service catering for private parties and commercial accounts. It regularly provides food for the service department cafe within Toyota Carlsbad, where employees or customers getting their car serviced can get coffee and pastries in the morning, or sandwiches and salads for lunch. Many of Reilly’s desserts are her cherished family recipes, while others have been adapted over the years from the original Gloria’s Bakery cookbooks. With all of its changes, Cute Cakes is still best known for its award-winning designer cakes and sells roughly 2,000 custom wedding and celebration cakes per year in addition to the 80 or so sold weekly from her grab-n-go bakery case. Her most extravagant cakes to date serve approximately 10,000 people at Sycuan Casino’s Anniversary Celebration each year.
Reilly feels at home in the city of Escondido, which has been wonderful to her since she came in as a new business and property owner and she has been intentional about getting involved, participating in local planning boards and with the Escondido Downtown Business Association. Cute Cakes participated in the Downtown Business Association’s Wedge Cheese Festival and Chocolate Festival and has offered up her space to host meet and greets with the Escondido Police Department and public forums with Mayor Paul McNamara.
“The people of Escondido are very loyal. Once they find a place that they like, they support it,” said Reilly. “We have tons of regulars now, residents and students that come in every day for coffee or every Saturday or Sunday for brunch. We know them and we know what they’ll order, and that’s what I love. I never dreamed that I’d be running a bakery and cafe but if I had, this business is everything I would have wanted it to be.”
Cute Cakes is located at 345 West Grand Avenue in the heart of Escondido. It serves breakfast and lunch Monday – Friday from 8 a.m – 4 p.m., and brunch on Saturday (until 4 p.m.) and Sunday (until 1 p.m.).
Infusing Plant-based Foods with Protein, Flavor and Texture
Consumer demand for plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and ready-to-drink formulations is on the rise. Last year, foods made with plant-based proteins generated $4.5 billion in the U.S. which was up 11 percent from 2018. But many of the plant-based proteins currently available to Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) makers rely on traditional farming methods that aren’t sustainable and have limitations that impact the taste and quality. San Marcos-based Plantible Foods aims to solve both of these problems by developing a better ingredient that fortifies alternative food products with the protein, flavor, and texture profiles that rival the foods they replace and is engineered using more sustainable, eco-friendly methods.
“One of the limitations in making better plant-based food products, particularly meat and dairy alternatives, is actually the quality of traditional plant-based proteins that are available as commodity ingredients,” said Maurtis van de Ven, co-founder of Plantible Foods. “This void, combined with our mission to create a more sustainable type of protein that brings higher yields with lower energy and freshwater costs, drove us to develop what we believe is the best plant-based protein ingredient currently out there.”
All proteins are not the same and behave differently when put into food products, which makes it difficult to accurately replicate all of a food’s characteristics with plant-based proteins. Netherland natives Maurtis van de Ven and Tony Martens launched Plantible Foods three-and- a-half years ago to develop a sustainable and functional protein production method to benefit future generations. The seven-person company is engineering RuBisCO, a highly digestible protein derived from the aquatic plant Lemna that is free of allergens, color, and flavor. And with unique properties that mimic those found in egg whites, it can be used to both add protein to alternative products in terms of grams per serving and improve taste quality.
Access to capital and a friendly regulatory environment made the U.S. an attractive choice for Plantible Foods, and Southern California provided the ideal climate for cultivating Lemna. When van de Ven and Martens discovered a former algae farm with existing infrastructure in place, they knew they’d found their pilot facility.
Plantible Foods now operates on two acres of land in San Marcos where it grows Lemna in covered ponds and uses patent-pending technologies to extract RaBisCO protein from the harvested biomass. Because Lemna multiplies every 48 hours and grows 365-days a year, the crop is a highly sustainable source of protein. By comparison, Plantible Foods can produce roughly 10 times more protein per acre than soy while recycling nearly 95 percent of the water it uses.
Van de Ven appreciates San Marcos’ close proximity to specialty suppliers and he considers the 78 Corridor a great hub for anything engineering- or manufacturing-related. Whether he’s seeking a company that does powder coating and sandblasting or a supplier for food-grade fasteners, he can find that expertise locally and procure quality products quicker and cheaper than he could elsewhere.
“There is value in the wide variety of specialty suppliers and small manufacturers, especially in Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido, where we are able to locally source a lot of the tools, equipment, and components that we use in the construction of the farm and in our engineering work,” said van de Ven. “We can actually get the products much faster and at better rates from local suppliers with a lot of good support. The City (of San Marcos) has been very helpful in making local introductions to other businesses that can support or advance our business.”
Plantible Foods sees its biggest opportunity in the alternative dairy market where replicating food products like yogurts and cheeses poses greater technical challenges. The company isn’t looking to replace other plant-based proteins but rather to add value by delivering the functional and sensory attributes that make food products better and the experience when eating them more authentic to the original.
The first production batch of RuBisCo protein, which has completely sold out, will be delivered to buyers in 2021.