One of our city’s most beloved juice brands, ELXR Juice Lab, recently announced an expanded menu including a roster of parfaits, smoothies, and wellness latte items. So of course we had to know: how does a menu item go from the spark of an idea to your cup (or spoon, or straw)?
We caught up with ELXR’s head of Product Development, Katie Rosenberg (also a certified nutritionist, whole food advocate, and self-proclaimed total chocoholic), to find take a peek behind the curtain.
Well TO Do: How did you come to be the in-house recipe creator for ELXR Juice Lab and what does that role entail?
Katie Rosenberg: Food is my number one love (other than my fiancé and dog!), so when I heard ELXR Juice Lab was looking for some recipe development support I jumped at the opportunity. More than two years later I am still excited about my role and the challenges it presents me with.
My main role is to make sure our product offerings reflect what our customers want, and fit our company ethos, and to bring those new releases from idea to shelf. It entails working closely with our entire team and looking at concepts from all angles. As we have a small management team, I invest time as well on our operations and finding efficiencies from kitchen to store – my problem solving skills are definitely honed!
WTD: Walk us through the process by which a new product ends up on shelves for ELXR Juice Lab, from the spark of an idea to putting it in the consumer’s hands (or mouth, more accurately!).
KR: I work with a product release calendar that lines up the next six months, so at any one time I am working towards releases with a long horizon line due to all the factors involved with releases.
First we have to make sure the idea fits within our ethos of flavour-meets-function: food should always be pleasurable to eat and provide nutritional benefits to our customers. Then, we make sure it fits within our existing product line and nothing is too similar in flavour; shelf space is often at a premium so every product must be unique.
I am always aware of trends in our industry and try and offer something entirely new, or a twist on what’s already out there. Once an idea is vetted, I get my hands dirty in the kitchen and make samples to share with the team and get feedback. If we like the direction, the concept is refined until we get something truly craveable. Next, a whole lot of not-as-sexy but extremely important processes take place like recipe costing, ingredient sourcing, working with our production team to ensure the roll-out runs smoothly and sourcing the best packaging for the job.
When we are ready to go, we may have launch events and engage with our customer base to get everyone jazzed! Then, on to the next concept, and so on. It’s a delicious whirlwind that necessitates many skill sets, and takes the whole team working together to nail.
WTD: Aside from making sure it tastes great, what are some of the other major factors that go into creating a new menu item? From where do you draw inspiration?
KR: All good products solve problems: breakfast can be a challenge to prepare at home, so we developed our line of probiotic parfaits and sprouted granola sachets. Generally, once I have identified a problem we’d like to solve, I’ll see how the industry has responded and get an idea of how we can position ourselves differently. I love strong competition because it causes me to really think outside of the box to deliver something compelling.
In other cases, an entire final product can come to me and I can even taste it, and I have to see where it fits in to our product release calendar and work backwards to see if it’s really something our customers would enjoy. As my background is in nutrition as well as food, I draw lots of inspiration from different food bloggers and new research in the fields of nutrition and fitness as well. I definitely have a boatload of Instagram accounts that I get inspiration from too, as well as friends, who are always cooking up healthy and tasty eats!
WTD: We’ve always loved ELXR Juice Lab for the delish and inventive juices. How did you break out of being boxed in by being known purely as a juice brand and what sparked the decision to expand into lattes, smoothies, and food items?
KR: We pride ourselves on creating products that are exciting and inventive – thank you! We have always wanted to take ELXR Juice Lab beyond just bottled juices, tonics, milks and boosters. It keeps the brand alive for our customers and ourselves – who wants to look at the same products over and over again for years?
Also – let’s face it – we live in Canada and almost half of the year we spend bundled up, so expanding in to hot drinks was a no-brainer! Smoothies as well were a natural extension of our plant-based offerings, and really do parallel our juices with their inventive combinations and superfood additions. Our customers look to us for the tastiest and most healthy convenience foods, and we are always listening to what they want, and moving towards offering more.
WTD: Speaking of juices, how do you come up with the formulations for some of the more interesting blends? We have a juicer at home and when we get creative it sometimes… let’s just say it doesn’t always go so well!
KR: Ha! Well, behind every juice are dozens that didn’t make the grade! Trying to be as creative as possible sometimes means we flop as we ride the edge between things that are exciting and what customers will actually enjoy. We have juiced nearly every fruit and vegetable I can think of, and in doing so, I have a mental catalogue of each item, how it tastes, and how it works in combination with other ingredients.
To make a great juice, I start off with my base flavours (pineapple, cucumber, celery, apple, etc.) and next consider what flavour accents would work well layered overtop. Also, I always keep in mind what the intended function of the juice will be, and try and achieve that through the addition of herbs and spices. For example, Pina Vida has a base of apple and pineapple, with anti-inflammatory accents like ginger, cayenne and turmeric to really make it pop and give it a great capacity to help reduce aches and pains.
A tip is that citrus always works to balance sweetness and bring out the minerality of juices, and to not go too crazy with powerful ingredients like dandelion leaf, as they are extremely nutrient dense and are not required in great amounts to achieve great flavour and nutrition.
WTD: Having recently visited NYC and spotting the beetroot latte trend, we’re particularly excited that ELXR Juice Lab is adding one to the menu. Can you talk for a moment about the benefits of beetroot and what makes this latte in particular so unique?
KR: Yes! We love our Cup of Youth latte! It is a part of our new hot drink line that we just launched. It was designed to be beneficial for skin health and stress, while being tasty enough to sip even if you’re just looking for a pretty-in-pink bevvie! It contains cold-pressed beet juice, cashew milk, maple syrup, goji berry, schisandra, pink salt ,and vanilla, with the addition of marine collagen as well (vegans can opt out, no problem!).
Marine collagen has been shown to help reduce fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improve the strength of hair and nails. Additionally it can reduce joint pain! It’s an ingredient we are really excited to offer, and it is sourced sustainably, which is of course extremely important to us.
A word on beets: they are a great source of iron and also improve endurance. Schisandra is a wonderful adaptogenic berry that tastes great and helps improve our body’s response to stress. Goji berries are a great source of antioxidants, which support healthy skin. Cup of Youth is frothy and tastes like a dream – try it at our Yorkville and King West locations!
WTD: Let’s talk smoothies. Since those are made fresh on location, will the menu change with the seasons? Do you also plan to offer them outside of the Yorkville location?
KR: We love our smoothies and the reaction we are getting from our customers who are making them a part of their daily routine! They’re easy to customize too with our booster menu. We will definitely be adding more smoothies to the mix seasonally. We currently have five smoothies and believe we offer a smoothie for every mood! Elxr Juice Lab’s Green Envy is my favourite, as it features ginger and basil in a base of avocado and greens, which gives it a crazy beautiful fragrance that I could drink all day, every day.
WTD: As you watch trends in food – superfoods, supplements, etc – come and go, how do you decide what to work into recipes and what might just be a passing fad? Are there any particular trends that you’re excited about right now?
KR: In every industry there are trends that come and go and knowing what will stick isn’t an exact science. We love to introduce our customers to ingredients we have tried and believe in. For our new hot drinks menu, cordyceps and marine collagen are new ingredients for us, and we believe they have compelling functions and are easy to incorporate in to daily lives. We know our customers and some may just be embarking on to a more healthy food journey and we want to make sure we are inclusive in our formulations. Our booster menu is designed for the more advanced and adventurous to customize their smoothies and hot drinks, with ingredients like camu berry and spirulina.
WTD: What’s exciting you right now about the Toronto wellness scene?
KR: I thrive in competition, and what I find most exciting is that there are so many great healthy food concepts in this city right now. Strong competition spurs innovation and differentiation, and seeing how the wellness industry is responding to the competition is something I find fascinating. I also love how like-minded companies are working together, like an upcoming event we are co-hosting with Kotn. Interdisciplinary concepts are super fun to plan and offer new opportunities to meet our customers, and to introduce our brands to new faces! We love meeting and speaking with our customers, and can’t wait to share our plans for more awesome upcoming events!
To learn more about ELXR Juice Lab’s new menu and to find them near you, visit elxrjuicelab.com