Ray Lee, CEO of private brand beverage manufacturer Country Pure Foods, discusses innovation to stand apart in a crowded category.

Lee Raymond

Beverage manufacturer Country Pure Foods has operations that run the gamut — from retail and food service to co-manufacturing for leading brands and private labels. Ray Lee, CEO of the Akron, Ohio-based company, sat down with Store Brands to discuss his company’s offerings, and how its focus on innovation differentiates it from the competition.

Ray Lee, CEO, Country Pure Foods

Store Brands: Can you tell us a bit about Country Pure Foods and what it does?

Ray Lee: Country Pure Foods, or CPF, with five manufacturing plants, is the premier manufacturer of beverages, including 100% fruit and vegetable juices, juice drinks and now plant-based beverages including organic and conventional almond milk and oat milk.

CPF has a diversified portfolio of products in three distinct segments:

  • Retail — CPF is one the largest private label providers of 100% juices, juice drinks and plant-based beverages to many of the largest retailers across the entire country;
  • Foodservice — At over 1 billion portions per year, CPF is one of the largest portion juice
    providers in frozen, chilled and shelf stable, in the foodservice industry, servicing K-12, healthcare and the hospitality industries; and
  • Co-manufacturing — CPF is one of the most trusted manufacturers of beverages for the past 25 years for the largest International consumer juice brands, specializing in chilled extended-shelf-life products.

SB: What about your private label strategy makes you the choice for retailers?

RL: Country Pure Foods is proud to launch innovative new products to meet the customer needs and has become one of the premier suppliers of refrigerated plant-based beverages and juice in the retail and foodservice industries. We are fully aligned with all the latest trends and our R&D team is always thinking ahead within the plant-based category to ensure we meet consumer needs. Based on the growth of plant-based beverages (almond up 14% and oat up more than 200% percent in 2020), retailers need a supplier they can trust to deliver the on-trend, high-quality products their consumers expect. In addition, our customers can be assured that a culture of food safety and quality is ingrained within the company, beginning with the vigorous testing of ingredients and certification of suppliers to the rigid standards and expectations that Country Pure Foods instills throughout its organization.

SB: How do retailers build sales from the category and, specifically, private label in the category?

RL: Most retail chains want to quickly follow new national brand launches, and as a result, Country Pure Foods’ R&D team, in conjunction with operations, must constantly test new ingredients, new flavors, and new production methodologies so that when there is a successful new product that reaches national scale, we can be there to service the retail chain’s demands.

Within private label, we are experts in creating unique items within the category. Some of the more innovative items we have created include not from concentrate, or NFC, grapefruit juice, NFC pineapple juice and organic NFC orange juice. These products are not broadly available from the national brands, so they help retailers differentiate themselves in the juice category. Within the plant-based beverage space, with so much activity in this category, retailers committing expanded shelf space for their brand is key. The growth of the category is creating new entrants all the time, consisting of many variants and line extensions. The retailers committing to a private brand block within the plant space will help their most loyal customers and cut through the clutter on the shelf with high-quality products at a value.

SB: Any new items coming down the line in the near future?

RL: Innovation in foodservice can drive trends in retail. Our V blend juices, and frozen Sidekicks sold in foodservice are made with 100% fruit juice, vegetable juice and a blend of both. While these products are unique to school foodservice now, they meet the “better for you” and plant-forward demands of consumers. With our foodservice success, these are ideal products for consumers who would be interested in buying these “better for you” products within traditional retail, club and e-commerce.

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