Caribe Brings Caribbean Flavors to American Grocery Stores
Luis Solis, Founder and CEO of Caribe Juice, grew up in the Dominican Republic before moving to the United States for college. He was struck by the difference in the quality of life between the two countries. Missing home and the fresh juice he had grown up with, Luis noticed a demand for a Caribbean juice similar to the kind he had enjoyed as a child. He sees his cold press juice as a way to bridge the gap between farmers in the DR and Americans craving a higher-quality, fresh tropical drink option.
In 2017, Luis took his passions for creating great tasting juice and empowering people in the Dominican Republic to the next level when Caribe opened its first production facility in his home country. Caribe hires and sources all ingredients locally in the DR.
Read more about our interview with Luis below.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
Not really. I knew I wanted to start my own business in my senior year in college when me and a couple of friends attempted to start a grocery delivery business in the University of Miami. We ended up not starting the business because we were too afraid to fail, but I loved the experience and after that, I was constantly looking for opportunities to start a business.
Why did you start your business?
Caribe started on a trip to the Dominican Republic with an American classmate from my MBA class. We were staying at my parents, and one morning my mom made us homemade passion fruit juice, something very typical in the DR culture. When my friend tried it, his reaction was priceless. He couldn’t believe how good it tasted or how something like it wasn’t available in the US. This was the spark that led to further research.
Through research, I found that there was an opportunity in the market to create a product that tasted like home to a lot of Latin Americans in the US, and immigrants from other countries. And also a product that was a better option (in quality, freshness, nutrition) than most tropical drinks and juices in the market. I also found out that a lot of the farmers that grow tropical fruits in the Dominican Republic struggle to sell them because of a lack of an external market. So I saw an opportunity to create a brand that could serve as a bridge between those two opportunities.
What do you like about food? What drew you to the food industry?
I love the food I had growing up in the Dominican Republic and after moving to the US I had to leave a lot of it behind. Now I am trying to bring some of it with Caribe, starting with my favorite drink ever, passion fruit juice!
What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced to date?
Securing good distribution. It is so challenging to get into stores, and also very challenging to compete and stand out on the shelves. There is a lot of competition in the beverage industry.
What is a piece of advice you wish you’d been given before starting?
I wish I knew how important and expensive marketing is. If I had known that I would have chosen to expand in a much slower way.
If you had to start all over, would you do it again? What would you do differently?
Hard question but yes. Even though it has been very tough, I would do it again. I would do a lot of things differently, but the main thing is that I would have focused on growing at a much slower and controlled pace.
How did you get into your first store?
I just went to this small market in Charlottesville called Feast, spoke with the manager, and showed them what I was doing. They were impressed and decided to give me a shot.
What was it like pitching your first buyer? Any tips/advice?
Just don’t be afraid and be confident in what you have. If you get a no, go to the next one.
How do you encourage repeat sales? Do you demo? Use social media? Events?
All of the above. Demos are great and social media can be really useful. But honestly, this has been the hardest thing for us to maintain. It is very important to stay small and concentrated until you have good, repeat sales before expanding. The more concentrated you are (for example if your stores are mostly in Charlottesville, VA) the easier it is to encourage repeat sales and the lower your customer acquisition cost.