Arden’s Garden is a thriving family-owned business that offers various cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and other plant-based products. Leslie Zinn, the CEO of Arden’s Garden, is now on a mission to make healthier living accessible and affordable while promoting the benefits of juicing and adopting a plant-based lifestyle. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Zinn to learn more.
Leslie Zinn’s Background And Formation Of The Company
Zinn grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and went to college in Boston. Zinn said:
“I was partying quite a bit and had really gotten into some heavy drugs. I did not end up graduating, and after a few months, my father intervened and said, ‘You know, I think you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, and you need to get help.’ My father told me that if I did not go and get help, he would never help me again. So I went off to treatment. I ended up getting sent for long treatment in New Jersey.”
“I said I could do anything for 90 days, and 11 months later, I finished the program, but the counselor believed I would not stay sober.
“The counselor said, ‘If you go home to Atlanta, you must go to a halfway house.’ I spent six months in that halfway house, and at the end of six months, the counselor said to me, ‘You’re not ready to go home to Atlanta. You need to get an apartment up here and continue working the job that you currently have and establish the foundation of our sobriety.’ I did that, and I was three years sober before returning to Atlanta. Then I applied to go to school at Georgia Tech. And after improving my grades, which had been pretty poor up in Boston, I was admitted and graduated there in 1991. Then I took a job in marketing, but it wasn’t exciting for me. After a year, I decided I wanted to attend med school. “
“At the same time, my mother was working on the idea of Arden’s Garden. My mom had been a huge health nut all my life, and she was always feeding my brother and me the best combinations of smoothies and juices. She wanted this juicer and cold press called Norwalk but could not afford it then. Fast forward 30 years, it’s 1993: She still wants the Norwalk, but it cost $2,200 at the time. She still could not afford that. And she said to herself, I don’t want to go my whole life without this amazing juicer.
“So she does the American thing by getting out her credit card and buying the juicer to make herself feel better. Then she calls her friends and family and says, ‘I have this fantastic juicer, and I want to use it. So if you want juice, I want to make it for you.’ And that is how Arden’s Garden was born. However, she was not charging money at the time. She was making the juice and giving it away since my mom’s currency is health.”
“Someone in the neighborhood opened a health food store. And they heard about her smoothies and said, ‘Hey, come to the back of our health food store, and we will give you the produce. You make the juice, and we will split the sales.’ My mother says, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a home run.’ And so off, she goes to the back of this health food store.”
“Then she invites my brother and I to help her because she needs a lot of labor. So my brother took one look at that juicer, and he said: ‘Mom, there’s no business here. I will buy a real commercial cold press. But if I do that, I would like to be CEO.’ She replied, ‘Be whatever you want to be.’ So my brother buys that juicer, and he starts to help her with this business.”
“Now I was back in school, taking all my science knowledge to apply towards medical school. I was taking the MCAT, so I was only helping them on the side. Still, after about nine months, nobody was making money. My mother was getting just a tiny amount. We were bottling in mason jars and writing the juices’ names on top. “
“So, as a last-ditch effort, we told our mom, ‘Go to Buckhead (where people have money) and try to sell these juices.’ She decided to go to hair salons instead, which is a decision that turned the entire company around.“
“Why? Because hair stylists are always stuck at their stations, and they always have cash from tips. They like things that are new and trendy. Three weeks after my mom started going to the hair salons, she was selling three times the amount we were inside the health food store. Shortly after that, we moved to a new location near my brother’s house. And that’s how we started Arden’s Garden.”
Favorite Memory Working For Arden’s Garden
What has been Zinn’s favorite memory working for Arden’s Garden? Zinn said her favorite memory of working for Arden’s Garden happened in 2003.
“We had just purchased our first plant, and we had been in it for about four months when I got a phone call from Publix. They said, ‘we’re going to stop taking your products that we have been selling to Publix for five years.’ And I thought this was it for Arden’s Garden. They were a large part of our business.
“We had just bought this building and we needed every single customer we had. And the reason they were going to stop carrying our product was our competitor Odwalla had just been purchased by Coca-Cola and they had told Publix that they wanted to have Odwalla across all of the stores, including the 40 stores in Atlanta that we were in.”
After hanging up the phone, I could not put a sentence together. It was a Friday afternoon. We already had orders cold for the next day set to deliver to Publix. Wow. And over the weekend, I tried to think: ‘Okay, what’s different about Arden’s Garden and Odwalla? Then I said, ‘Well, we taste better. Okay, that’s great. And we’re healthier because we were using real fruits and vegetables. Well, that’s important as well.’ But one of the things I knew is that our customers were very loyal.”
“So I wrote an email that Monday to about 30-35 people that either had written about us as a company, as a supplier or somehow interacted with Arden’s Garden. The email basically said, ‘If you would like to be able to buy Arden’s garden in Publix, or you just want to support small local businesses, please reach out to Publix because they will listen.’ They are an incredibly customer-centric company. And that email got forwarded many, many times. Numerous people reached out to Publix over the next three weeks. And after three weeks, we got a call back from Publix. And they said, ‘Not only are we going to bring you back to the 40 Atlanta stores, but we’re going to bring you into the warehouse, and we’re going to expand your distribution by 200 stores. So what had turned out to be just one of the worst things that happened to our company ended up being one of the best. And it’s been an unbelievable partnership with Publix since then.”
What have been some of Zinn’s challenges in building the company, and has the current macroeconomic climate affected the company? Zinn acknowledged:
“So one of the challenges that we’re facing currently is that inflation has made it very difficult. We price our product at a point to make it accessible to everyone. But the inflation and the cost of goods that affected our supply chain have made it very difficult not to raise prices.”
“The margins have been incredibly squeezed, and hiring good staff has not been easy. People are getting paid much more, and we are an in-person business. We are either hiring in manufacturing or at the retail stores in person. So it’s been very challenging to keep our prices affordable, operate with smaller margins, and continue to innovate and grow. We are doing our best to support our customers as best we can. But it has been challenging with the increases in costs and for payroll and raw ingredients.”
Upon asking Zinn about expansion plans, she pointed out that the company plans to open locations outside of Georgia.
“Hopefully within the next year, either to Alabama or Tennessee. I would say those will be the first two states we will look at opening a store.”
What are Arden’s Gardens’ core products? Zinn explained:
“So our core products are cold-pressed juices and smoothies. However, we have an initiative focusing on many more plant-based foods. If you come to any of our retail stores, we have grab-and-go items where you can get plant-based foods because we realize that convenience is a huge factor for people to be healthy. It’s challenging to be healthy when you’re surrounded by processed foods everywhere. We’re also trying to add all sorts of new foods to our line: not just salads, but some warm foods like cheesy fajitas – a soy-based vegetable offering. And we have strawberry cheesecake tiramisu and some fantastic soups.
What have been some of Arden’s gardens’ most significant milestones? Zinn cited:
“Being able to sell wholesale outside of Georgia. We have had tremendous relationships with retailers like Kroger, Whole Foods, and Publix. And we have been selling to these fantastic partners for over two decades. Several of them have allowed us to grow outside of Atlanta with them. That was a huge milestone for us and this was all in the last five years (the company has been doing business for 28 years).
Customer Success Stories
After asking Zinn about customer success stories, she replied:
“We have one gentleman that did a juice fast with us for 50 days named Stefan. He lost 50 pounds in 50 days, and he kept it off. He was our spokesperson for many years and was able to help many people adopt juicing as a way to get healthier, and he reversed his diabetes and high blood pressure by losing weight.”
“We also had a woman we used to offer cleanse classes, and we had a woman who had high cholesterol. Her doctor wanted to put her on statins, and she had already signed up to do the cleanse class with us. So she told her doctor, ‘I’m going to do the cleanse class and if it doesn’t work, I’ll go on statins.’ So basically, the cleanse is eliminating all toxins. And after a six-week period, she provided the data – which revealed that she went from being in the dangerous range to being in the healthy range. Our bodies are incredible machines if we give them superior nutrition that responds accordingly! That was an amazing success story!
Differentiation From The Competition
What differentiates Arden’s Garden from its competition? Zinn affirmed:
“Well, our price point is very affordable. We also use real fruits and vegetables. There are no concentrates. There is no puree. There are no preservatives to extend shelf life. Everything is focused on health.”
What were Zinn’s final thoughts? Zinn concluded:
“We need to be healthier. Our country is very unhealthy, and we want to help you be healthier. So make it a priority and partner with us.”