The Juiceman Cometh -- Seattle Company Drinking Up The Profits Selling Machines

A lean, tanned man whose steel-gray hair suggests he should be past his prime stands on a television stage in front of a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables. He grabs a fistful of parsley, a hunk of cabbage and a few carrots and feeds them into the juice machine in front of him.

His bushy eyebrows moving in tandem with his dazzling smile, he lifts a glass filled with the orange-colored juice from under the spout of the machine. Hoisting it heavenward, he says, "It's indisputable. This is where life comes from on this planet. Cooked food is dead food. How can death bring life?"

Occasionally, this 30-minute commercial - a nutritional tent revival led by 70-year-old Jay Kordich, also known as "The Juiceman" - will preempt your favorite sitcom rerun. And if you sit through it all, including the parts where he offers fresh juice remedies for health ailments suffered by members of the studio audience - pineapple juice is good for arthritis and a concoction of cabbage, carrots and celery is good for stomach ulcers - you'll be given the `800' number to call and order your very own $289 juicer.

The people answering the calls are at JM Marketing Inc., a South Seattle company that last year had sales of $6.5 million, mostly in top-of-the-line juicers. That was more than a sixfold increase from the $1 million reported the previous year - the company's first year of business. The company says it is posting a pretax profit margin of about 15 percent to 20 percent of sales. In 1991, the company expects sales of $25 million, thanks, in part, to this month's introduction of the juicers into 100 retail outlets nationwide, including several Seattle-area health-food stores. Early next year, a smaller version of the juicer will be introduced into department stores, including the Dillard's chain and The Bon Marche.

Those juicy expectations are based on a marketing strategy that counts on mainstream America buying into a dietary lifestyle that not many years ago was dismissed as the eccentric domain of such fruit-and-nut advocates as Euell Gibbons and Adelle Davis.

But at a time when network television is creating news specials devoted to nutrition and health, and when increasing numbers of physicians say that Americans should forget the traditional four food groups and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, it appears that JM Marketing may be in on the beginning of a marketing wave.

"Health marketing is here to stay for two reasons," says Richard Harvey, a Seattle marketing consultant. "By taking care of themselves, people can cut down on hospitalization and cut medical costs. People are very concerned about that. People also now understand that what they put in their bodies affects their health."

Besides selling juicers, JM Marketing sells a lifestyle. The company publishes a monthly magazine plump with articles on nutrition and health and sells videotapes and books describing weight loss and healthful cooking. Customers also can subscribe to a hotline staffed by nutritionists who answer dietary questions.

Says Steve Cesari, JM Marketing president: "There are 50 other companies that sell juicers. We educate people."

The seed for JM Marketing, and its product-development arm, Trillium Health Products, was sewn in 1988 when Rick Cesari, then a marketing executive with a longtime interest in health, attended a Seattle trade show and saw Kordich pitching juicers.

Kordich's message was that Americans need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and that the only practical way to do so is through juicing, which takes out the fiber but delivers lots of nutrients in concentrated form. (This is still JM's marketing message, though the company also recommends that people eat more legumes, whole grains and other foods high in fiber.)

Cesari was impressed with Kordich's salesmanship, but soon realized that Kordich - who was running his own mail-order business - lacked the marketing, distribution and product-development network to adequately support the business. Cesari talked with Kordich about some kind of partnership and then called his brother Steve, who operated a chain of Atlanta sporting-goods stores.

"Rick told me he needed $50,000," recalls Steve. "And when he told me why, I realized he was right. The time was right to start a business based on a healthy lifestyle."

The pair soon talked Kordich into signing on with their new company as their exclusive promoter. Though Kordich now lives in Las Vegas, he is a contract employee of JM Marketing.

Steve Cesari moved to Seattle where the brothers thought the climate was right for a health-oriented company. Then they recruited Seattle economist and business consultant Bob Lamson into joining the management team as chief executive officer of Trillium. Lamson and the Cesaris are co-owners of the company, with Rick Cesari handling marketing.

Kordich had been selling a juicer designed and manufactured by a Swiss company. But after a worldwide search and $500,000 spent on engineering improvements, JM Marketing gave its manufacturing business to a small South Korean manufacturer.

Lamson says the juicer now marketed by JM is a state-of-the-art machine that competes in a high-end niche where only a few other companies do business.

The JM machine does a better job than its competitors of distilling pulp from juice, Lamson said, noting that his company's machine also is up to such rugged tasks as separating citrus and melon peel from juice.

So far, JM Marketing sells only one main product line, juicers, though the company is branching into different models. Along with an upgraded version of the original model, the company will early next year introduce a smaller model costing about $125, and a commercial model for restaurants, priced from $1,500 to $1,800, depending on size.

But Lamson says the company expects to eventually market an expanded line of kitchen appliances appealing to health-conscious consumers. Rice cookers and food dehydrators probably will be introduced next year, he says, with future plans for electric bread bakers and grain mills.

"Baby boomers are aging," Lamson says. "They're interested in maintaining their athletic prowess." At the same time, he says, "We're betting on the fact that, basically, in a flat economy, people are more interested in quality than they used to be."

Another product-development plan hinges on the company's belief that juice bars, teamed with sidewalk espresso carts, may be the next fashion in beverage marketing. "A juice bar and an espresso stand is a natural combination," says Lamson.

In its effort to win the endorsement of physicians and nutritionists, JM Marketing has cultivated a close relationship with John Bastyr College of naturopathic medicine in Seattle. The company is grooming nutrition experts other than Kordich to give seminars. One is Cherie Calbom, a nutritionist from Bastyr College who is being billed as "The Juicewoman."

Marketing consists largely of half-hour TV commercials and seminars offered throughout the country. Calbom, who spends about half her time on the road, says that a typical evening seminar in a city such as Los Angeles attracts from 850 to 1,500 people, the majority of them in their 30s and 40s.

But even in the hinterlands where the mantra of good health might not be expected to get such a fervent reception, people are interested, Calbom says.

"I went back to Iowa, where I grew up, and thought this would be the worst seminar I'd ever done because these people eat meat and potatoes and nothing else," says Calbom. "But I was surprised. They were very interested and some of them wrote me later about how they'd started juicing and lost weight or lowered their cholesterol. It's really a good cross section of middle America that comes to our seminars."

Seminars are promoted through heavy advertising on local television stations, including network affiliates. Rick Cesari says it's usual for him to spend $40,000 to $60,000 for television time to promote a series of seminars in a metropolitan area.

JM's nearly 100 employees appear to be mostly true believers when it comes to the corporate credo of good health through juicing.

Visitors to the headquarters are offered fresh carrot and apple juice cocktails. White coffee mugs imprinted with the company's orange `Rx' logo - the `x' is made up of two crossed carrots - are on desks all over the building. But instead of coffee stains in the mugs, there are tell-tale orange rings from carrot juice. A large kitchen is stocked with juicers and crates of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Lamson, who admits that in his pre-JM Marketing days he snacked on Twinkies, says that the business will grow - he predicts sales of $100 million next year - as others like himself get savvy about better health.

"You simply can't open a magazine these days without seeing something on health and nutrition," he says. "It's the new lifestyle."