Happy Moose Juice has been keeping San Francisco healthy with its organic, cold-pressed juices since 2013. The company has also been making a positive impact on youth in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood with a profit-sharing program for Hella Berry Probiotic Smoothie, a juice created and launched by the kids in a unique partnership with the Boys & Girls Club’s Willie Mays Clubhouse.
Happy Moose Juice’s products are distributed throughout the Bay Area in cafes, natural grocery stores, online retailers and now, thanks to a partnership with Safeway – throughout the Pacific Northwest. Employee-owned and operated, Happy Moose Juice is based in Bayview-Hunters Point and hires many of its employees from the local community.
Ryan Armistead, who founded the company with Phoebe Croxton, was inspired to start a business in the healthy food space by his travels to Costa Rica and Spain. In college he lived with a family in Costa Rica, whose matriarch made tropical aqua frescas every day. After working in a corporate job for a couple years after college, Armistead traveled around Europe and lived in Spain with a family who operated an olive ranch.
“I learned a lot about regenerative organic agriculture at its finest, which is a standard farming practice in other countries,” said Armistead. “I came back with a renewed sense of pursuing my own passions and investing in a career that was about more than just paying the bills.”
After making juices and smoothies for himself and his friends for many years, Armistead and his then-roommate Croxton (who stepped away from her role in 2014) launched HMJ as a pop-up juicery in a restaurant on Valencia Street. They were located there for three years until the restaurant underwent renovations. Having learned how capital-intensive it was to operate a retail food business, they switched their business model to wholesale and delivery.
Like most businesses in the food and drink space, Armistead has had to be nimble, especially this past year. After coronavirus forced the closure of most retail food businesses and corporate offices where they were focused selling Happy Moose Juice (Peet’s was their biggest customer), Armistead had to adjust to the realities of the pandemic and shift the distribution model once again. He started subscription programs and focused on mail orders and shipments direct to consumers. In 2020 he saw their e-commerce business grow from 7% to 55% of their revenues.
The company has successfully weathered the COVID-19 storm so far, retaining its seven employees and proudly paying them a livable wage, Armistead said. He is grateful to SFMade for sharing regular updates and information about PPP loans and deadlines throughout the pandemic and for its decade of support of small local businesses like his.
“Having SFMade’s support and knowing there are people out there to help you is crucial,” said Armistead. “It gives you the confidence to push through really hard times because it’s not easy to operate a food business.”
Although it’s been challenging, the pandemic has given Happy Moose Juice an opportunity to live out its values that put happiness, community, sustainability, and health front and center.
“The pandemic affected anyone and everyone and can be devastating but also presents an opportunity to rise to the occasion to support people who have been most affected,” said Armistead.
Happy Moose Juice showed their support to the community in a variety of ways: by distributing their juice to 8,000 unhoused people in San Francisco in partnership with a program launched by two high school students, and by providing front-line medical workers with healthy sustenance as part of a joint program with two other local businesses — Nana Joes Granola and Andytown Coffee.
During the pandemic they were also able to continue (albeit by Zoom) a community impact program that they launched in 2018 with the Boys & Girls Club’s Willie Mays Clubhouse in Bayview-Hunters Point. The Boys & Girls Club’s mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
Armistead saw an opportunity to teach high school students who live in the neighborhood where Happy Moose Juice is based to learn business and life skills that would help them be successful in the next chapter of their life.
“A lot of these kids have extremely limited resources and go straight into the workforce right after high school,” said Armistead. “We thought it would be fun and a valuable experience to bring the kids under our wing and teach them how to create their own recipe and product. They got to be a part of each step required to create and launch their own juice product – market research, product positioning, financial planning, sales, marketing, production, etc.”
Built into the program was a revenue sharing model in which the students (there are 7 to 10 at any one time) and the Club benefit from their work. Happy Moose gives 20% profits from each bottle sold back to the kids and clubhouse. With a vested interest in the product’s success, students were inspired “to dig into the numbers that were directly related to their earnout, whereas before, it was just a math problem,” said Armistead.
The product—‘Hella Berry’ Probiotic Smoothie—took approximately a year to develop and has been on the market for a year and half. The 20% profit has translated to around $6,000 a year that is shared between the Club and the students.
Despite the pandemic, the program continues to grow and has the full support of the Boys & Girls Club, as well as the City, which provided $80,000 in funding at the end of 2019.
Michelle Pusateri, owner of Nana Joes Granola, heard about the program and wanted to get involved. Now she and Armistead are working together to co-create a new granola product with students at the club.
“Obviously things got complicated with COVID-19, but you’d be surprised at how naturally resilient these kids are,” said Armistead. “Working through challenges and setbacks is a pre-existing requirement for them in life. So, everyone is determined to get back together and keep it going. Working with these kids, we quickly discovered that the learning, sharing, and impacting one another was a two-way street. They have taught us just as much as we’ve taught them. And in all of it, the relationships we’ve built together will continue to produce fruit in all of our lives, in many different ways.”