Fueling The World: A Fairfield Couple’s Startup Journey in Organic Juices
An entrepreneur will tell you that inspiration can strike at any time and in any place. For Amy Barnouw, the vision for Planet Fuel Beverage Company revealed itself while she was standing in line at Fairfield’s Village Bagels. It was there, with her three children in tow, that she spotted a gap in the beverage market: a lack of hip, healthier juice brands for kids.
“The only choices were either juice boxes and foil-pouched juices geared toward toddlers or high-sugar drinks targeted to adults,” Amy says of her inspirational moment. “Why can’t there be a healthier juice brand with a ‘cool factor’ that teens and tweens can call their own?”
A few days later, Amy and her husband, Tom Barnouw, sketched out a business plan and decided to take a shot on goal. From there, it took three long years to bring their concept to market. During this period, Tom continued his full-time IT job, while Amy continued the demanding job of raising their five-year-old and three-year-old twins. All the launch planning, research, and product development took place in the evening hours after the children were put to bed. “It was my sanity,” Amy recalls. “Despite my exhaustion at the end of the day,
I looked forward to spending those late nights working on a dream.” From its inception, Planet Fuel was thoughtfully positioned to be more than just a healthier juice. Amy’s professional background is rooted in the environmental nonprofit sector. “From day one, I wanted Planet Fuel to be a brand that connects consumers to doing something good,” she noted. “I believe in mission-driven companies and think there needs to be more of them.” Ever since college, Amy had a gut feeling she would eventually start her own business. One might say her “aha” moment wasn’t quite so accidental, given that she was on the lookout for the right opportunity. Creating a food brand that is good for kids and good for the environ- ment was simply a marriage of her two biggest passions.
The Barnouws picked the name, “Planet Fuel,” to establish the brand’s association with the environmental movement. They joined the global organization, 1% For The Planet, to demonstrate their commitment to return a portion of company profits to environmental causes. As the brand grows, they will increase their programming to engage and educate children to make an impact with environmental and sustainability issues.
Thus far, the response from consumers and retail partners has been very encouraging. “Wherever we go to sample our juices, the reaction from young adults and parents is incredibly energizing,” Tom said. “First, they love the taste of our products. Second, they value what we are doing to educate and inspire our young consumers to choose prod-ucts that are good for their bodies and good for the planet.”
The company celebrated a somewhat serendipitous moment in January, when the newly released national Dietary Guidelines for Americans urged consumers to limit their intake of added sugars, specifically calling out high-sugar soft drinks as problematic. “Already, one in seven calories consumed by youth are from added sugars in products like soda and sports drinks,” according to Dr. Jane L. Delgado, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.
The timing couldn’t be better to reinforce the brand’s mission. The company is poised for growth, and like most growing startups, is working hard to build strategic partnerships and raise working capital to fuel its expansion. The Barnouws are optimistic that they will find the right investment partner. If the response from Connecticut’s startup community is any indication, their confidence is warranted. The company recently received recognition and prize money from the likes of The Refinery, reSET’s Social Impact Challenge, and the Morris Media Group’s “Green Awards.”
The Barnouw’s passion for their business is infectious; it’s no wonder they create brand advocates wherever they go. But they don’t run on passion alone. They truly believe in the fundamentals and taking a methodical approach to growing their business. Perhaps that’s a function of the advice they once received from a good friend and successful food entrepreneur who warned, “Don’t get suckered into fast growth, because you won’t be able to sustain it.”
A disciplined approach appears essential for these parent-entrepreneurs who must balance an array of responsibilities. Amy shifts roles repeatedly throughout the day. A typical morning starts with any par- ent’s familiar dash to get the kids on the school bus but then evolves into a business operation, rushing to get all her Planet Fuel supplies loaded into the minivan for a retail product demonstration an hour away. The fact that they can make it work should serve as inspiration for budding Connecticut entrepreneurs.
The couple seems to take the ups and downs associated with the startup grind in stride and appears to have plenty of grit and determi- nation left to build upon their momentum. “Planet Fuel is the sum of everything we’ve been through,” reflects Amy. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m excited about our future.”
For more information about where to find Planet Fuel beverages or to help support their mission, visit Planet Fuel online at planetfuel.com.
> Planet Fuel Beverage Company: 146 Harwich Rd., Fairfield; 203-767-4234