Matter of Taste: Juicero and the great pulp fiction

Silicon Valley's latest bête noire is a $400 juicing machine, only marginally better than your hands

Matter of Taste: Juicero and the great pulp fiction

[Juicero]

There’s really no denying just how juicy a story it is, a slurpable dose of schadenfreude that’s utterly satisfying.  

On April 19th, Bloomberg ran a story on Juicero, a Silicon Valley startup that has built a half-billion-dollar empire out of tech bros’ culinary obsession – removing the need to chew. Between Soylent (imagine leftovers from the Mir space station rebranded as haute cuisine) and this cold-pressed juice fad, chugging your daily caloric requirements have never been easier, nor more expensive.

Juicero sells pre-packaged vegetable and fruit, pulverised into mush inside a sealed packet vaguely resembling something a doctor would intravenously place into your arm in a tropical diseases ward. Through the powers of patented technology, a $400 machine then gently applied pressure, squidging the mulch and extracting the precious juice therein.

But as Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski noted in their Bloomberg drive-by, the critical failure of the Juicero model quickly materialised.

“But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative,” they write. “You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.”

Not only did a little manual labour cost nothing (although consumers do need to have bought the juicer machine to even be eligible to order the consumable compost), it also extracted almost the same amount of liquid as the machine in a faster time.

There is no shortage of poorly conceived food tech innovations sprouting up in and around Palo Alto, but Juicero’s genesis is particularly interesting; the company managed to raise €120m in hedge funding, with a big chunk of cash coming from Google’s own coffers. Doug Evans, Juicero’s lead bro, has favourably compared himself to Apple’s Steve Jobs as some kind of tech visionary, while the company has called its juicer a “platform” to reinstate fruit and vegetables’ place in the everyday diet.

All of that money has poured into hours of research and development, product engineering and marketing to produce juice. All to be shown up by a little elbow grease.

Yesterday, Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn dug deep into the mythologising the concept, producing a Medium post so perfectly first-world-problematic as to defy belief. In attempting to convince his customers to keep spending and to pacify the lupine investors at his door, Dunn offered a three-point rebuttal to those asking why bother with the Juicero:

“1. The first closed loop food safety system that allows us to remotely disable Produce Packs if there is, for example, a spinach recall. In these scenarios, we’re able to protect our consumers in real-time.

"2. Consistent pressing of our Produce Packs calibrated by flavour to deliver the best combination of taste and nutrition every time.

"3. Connected data so we can manage a very tight supply chain, because our product is live, raw produce, and has a limited lifespan of about 8 days.”

While protecting customers from hazardous leafy greens is not a bad thing in general, the Juicero takes a very draconian view on ‘best before’ dates, with the machines reportedly refusing to extract juice from packs just a day outside the recommended guidelines. The same guidelines that are required, by law, to be published on the packaging anyway.

But the blog post really leans in to the lunacy when the CEO paints a vivid picture of how the $400 kit, sitting on a kitchen countertop, is a central component of modern life.

“The value is in how easy it is for a frazzled dad to do something good for himself while getting the kids ready for school, without having to prep ingredients and clean a juicer.

“It’s in how the busy professional who needs more greens in her life get App reminders to press Produce Packs before they expire, so she doesn’t waste the hard-earned money she spent on them.”

It almost sounds like the Juicero is going to make America great again.

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