MINNEAPOLIS — Eric Hall had a candid response to a question about the specialty-food business, So Good So You, that he started with wife Rita Katona.
"We would be delighted if everybody in America would exercise and eat well," Hall said last week. "That also would put us out of business."
The company, based in Minneapolis, makes organic, plant-based fruit and vegetable shots that cost up to $3.99 apiece. They are billed as "packed with probiotics to naturally support the immune and digestive system."
The company is now approaching $12 million in sales after three years of rapid growth that has made investors and the media, including Inc. magazine, take notice. The company just made the magazine's list of fastest-growing small businesses in the U.S.
Americans have a malnutrition problem rooted in cheap, processed foods high in salt and sugar. Instead of several servings daily of fruit and vegetables, we turn to quick fixes to satisfy ourselves.
The desire to improve our health presents a business opportunity for companies such as So Good So You. So does the desire people have for the convenience that processed foods provide.
So Good So You has won distribution in stores such as Target, Publix and Safeway. Its supplements appeal to convenience-oriented consumers who may not have interest in preparing healthy meals that are heavy on fruits and vegetables.
"Our value is that these are blends of organic fruits and vegetables," Katona said. "There is value and convenience. It's done for you and blended in a way that's delicious. We have been able to answer consumer trends and desires with real foods. Conveniently.
"You can also spend $1.99 for a bottle of flavored water or $5.99 for a 15-ounce cold-pressed juice. They are heat pasteurized. That changes their nutrients and lessens the nutritional value. We blend raw fruits and vegetables. We use high-pressure processing that kills the bacteria, and increases the refrigerator life. But there are no preservatives. There is no degradation of the nutrients.''
An aspirational vision
Hall, 45, and Katona, 39, are health-and-fitness devotees who met in a yoga class.
Hall, a veteran in operations, grew up the son of scientists on a vegetable farm. Katona is a Hungarian immigrant who came to the U.S. to study and ended up being a merchandise buyer for Target. They are a friendly, formidable team who demonstrate how a good idea can succeed, raise capital, grow and capture attention.
They want So Good So You to provide an aspirational vision and inspire healthy living.
"The company is meant to be a platform ... that embraces the idea that nature already has given us everything we need to be healthy," Katona said.
"Instead of getting sick and taking antibiotics, take the time to eat and live in a way that respects the body."
Katona and Hall also see their efficient, "zero-waste" company as a proxy for a healthier environment.
When she was growing up, Katona said her family raised vegetables in a backyard that was mostly garden.
She walked and took public transportation. She doesn't eat meat.
"I learned that a plant-based lifestyle was the most environmentally advantageous and health-supporting lifestyle," she said.
So Good So You boasts a mostly female workforce of 42 that is half people of color. Factory workers are paid $15 to $22 an hour, plus vacation and health care benefits.
They have gone from producing 35,000 shots per day last year to 100,000 per day this year.
The company has installed a new production system that will help it go from 12,000 to 20,000 shots per hour.
Katona said So Good So You has invested heavily but also generated enough cash to make a profit.
More than 20 investors have invested about $8 million in the business in recent years.
This also is just the kind of fast-growing, specialty foods maker that is desirable to large food-and-beverage companies.
"We are heading toward an acquisition," Hall said. "There is only so much we can do on our own."
'They figured it out'
Kent Pilakowski, a food-industry veteran at General Mills and elsewhere, is an investor and director of So Good So You.
"They delivered an 'on-trend' product," Pilakowski said. "I was attracted to Eric and Rita. I invest as much in people (as the product). They figured it out.
"They created something that is 'instant health, instant wellness.' It's innovative. And the founders are fantastic people and employers.
"They are building something that could be a $100 million company."