When it comes to the ultra-competitive market for food and beverage sweeteners, 33 -year-old Benjamin Fleischer of Naples, Fla., is a natural. The founder and CEO of Pyure Brands, LLC, a supplier of all-natural and organic stevia products, has successfully developed a self-funded competitor to the corporate behemoths that have dominated the red-hot stevia market.
Driven by early identification of consumer trends, innovative new products, industry-leading production practices, and burgeoning marketplace demand for healthy alternatives to sugar, Pyure Brands is on pace to exceed $5 million in sales in 2012—making it one of the largest and fastest growing independent stevia companies in the United States. The milestone is significant considering that cumulative sales just 30 months ago were only $60,000.
Fleischer’s entrepreneurial story is one about identifying trends and swiftly capitalizing on them – about vision, hard work, overcoming obstacles, and never settling. I think this modern day David v. Goliath tale will resonate with your readers.
Fleischer cut his teeth in the food production and distribution business by working for his father’s company, a leading private label bagel manufacturer for brands like Kroger, Thomas’, and Pepperidge Farms. Showing an early aptitude for innovation, he successfully spearheaded the development and market rollout of the first low-carbohydrate bagel under the Atkin’s brand.
In 2006, while seeking new marketplace opportunities, Fleischer began developing an all-natural alternative to sugary, artificial energy drinks. His research led him to discover stevia, a genus of plants in the sunflower family that has leaves with a very sweet taste, and his focus immediately shifted.
Recognizing rapidly increasing obesity and diabetes rates, along with a growing backlash against sugar from the medical and governmental sectors, Fleischer saw tremendous potential and seemingly limitless applications for stevia. He would spend the next two years travelling the globe in search of the best source of stevia, while perfecting a process that isolates only the sweetest part of the plant, effectively minimizing any lingering bitterness or licorice-like flavors commonly associated with stevia.
In 2008, at the age of 27, Fleischer plunged his entire savings into founding Pyure Brands, taking on no debt or outside funding. Not long thereafter, stevia received FDA approval as a food additive, paving the way for Pyure to market its products to commercial food and beverage manufacturers. Still, orders were slow to come during the first two years.
“In the beginning, nobody understood what I was trying to do,” said Ben of Pyure’s early struggles to gain market traction. “I spent the majority of my time educating people about stevia and its benefits, not selling it.”
Through 2009, cumulative gross revenues reached only $60,000. Absent the marketing budget of his corporate-backed competitors Truvia (jointly developed by Cargill and Coca-Cola) and PureVia (jointly developed by Merisant and PepsiCo), he focused on superior taste, innovation, and customer service as key success drivers.
Ben’s commitment never wavered, and his persistence began to pay off in 2011 as Pyure Brands reached $1.5 million in sales, bettering the previous year by 320%.
Today, Pyure Brands products are found in over 12,000 stores in the United States, Europe, and South America. Amongst their national accounts are Whole Foods, Homegoods, Big Lots, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Wegman’s, PriceSmart, Amazon, and Walgreens.com. Pyure’s commercial extract technology can also be found in over 100 established and up-and-coming food, beverage, and personal care products.
Unlike some competitors, Pyure makes exclusive use of a single species of the stevia plant. The resulting extracts are exceptionally consistent, a characteristic that commercial food and beverage formulators appreciate. Pyure Brands was also the first company to bring a certified organic stevia sweetener product to the marketplace.
Fleischer notes, “If there is a lesson to be learned from our experience, it is that the little guy can compete amongst the giants if he surrounds himself with the right people and they keep their priorities in line.”