When organic farmers started raking in the green, Brian Nicholson seized the opportunity and turned his family orchard into big business.
Brian Nicholson never liked making the trip. The five-hour drive south from Cornell to the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan was tedious for a college kid, but he did it anyway because that’s what sons do for their fathers and because someone needed to sell the fruit from the family farm. Nicholson’s grandfather had purchased Red Jacket Orchards in 1958 and, 42 years later, commuters were happy to pay a premium for its juices.
“My father smelled opportunity,” laughs Nicholson, who didn’t – not at first anyway. “The whole local food movement was just starting to rev up and we [realized] that we had a great opportunity.”
After college Nicholson drove down to the city and didn’t come back. He’d gotten himself an advertising job and wanted to learn everything he could about branding and marketing. He climbed the corporate ladder until he met his wife, got married, and started giving serious thought to both the idea of family and the 600-acre farm upstate. He decided to apply the skills he’d used representing big-name clients to making Red Jacket a brand.
“We were called a ‘generation on the go’,” he says of Generation X. “Then people started to reprioritize their food.”
That trend suited Nicholson just fine. As organic food more than quadrupled its market share, he rebranded his farm’s output as Red Jacket Juices and began reaching out to high-end retailers and setting up stands at green markets. Today, Red Jacket Juices is a growing multi-million-dollar concern that still makes 25 percent of its profits at green markets. A decade ago, that business model would have sounded bizarre.
“Farms are becoming more connected to consumer markets,” Nicholson says. “It’s more important, trend-wise."
Red Jacket is best known for their 6-packs – flavors range from Raspberry Apple to Spiced Apple Cider – which cost $17.99. Nicholson’s new cookbook, Frutiful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes, is intended to expand the audience for those juices. Currently Red Jacket is stocked almost exclusively on the East Coast. Nicholson plans to spend the next year changing that and increasing awareness of his family farm.
“We hope to continue to build a healthy business that is thriving for the rural community,” he says. “We’re making more juice and reaching out across the country now. We’re proud to be a part of this.”
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