Growing up as a dual citizen going back and forth between two very contrasting countries, the Dominican Republic and the United States, has shaped my perspective on the world and allowed me to see life from two completely different lenses.
In one lens, I see a land of opportunity, one where even though there is struggle, there is also a chance for people who are willing to work hard and learn. In the other lens, I see a land of poverty where opportunity is offered to only those who are lucky enough to be born in the 5 percent of wealthy families.
This is the typical story of a developed versus a developing nation. Getting to experience and meet people in both worlds has inspired me to work to bridge this gap. Ever since I graduated from college, I have been brainstorming with my best friend, and now co-founder Cristian about ways to create more opportunity for Dominican people while creating something of value we can bring to people in the United States.
Finding the right idea
After juggling with more than 10 different ideas, Cristian and I decided on the most unexpected one: manufacturing fruit juice. The idea was born when one of my classmates from Darden School of Business, came with me to the Dominican Republic to visit over the winter break. While there, he tried a homemade delicious passion fruit juice that my mom made for us one morning, and he thought it was the best juice he had ever tried.
His reaction brought back memories of when I first left the Dominican Republic to go to college in Miami. During my freshman year in college, I remember looking for fresh passion fruit juice in every single grocery store and restaurant in the area, and I couldn't find anything that resembled the taste that I grew accustomed to back home. I remember whenever my mom came to visit me from the Dominican she would bring me gallons of frozen passion fruit juice in her luggage; it was the best present I could get.
Research to launch
After realizing the opportunity, we decided to do more research on what would it take for us to bring fresh Dominican juice to the United States. We researched both the demand and the supply end of the business. On the demand end, we found out that there are a lot of immigrants and multicultural families in the US that grew up with fresh passion fruit and guava juice and, just like me, haven't been able to find anything like it.
On the supply end, we learned that there is an enormous supply of these fruits in the Dominican Republic though not a big enough market for them. We met several small Dominican farmers that told us they are actually forced to throw away a lot of these fruits or sell it for very cheap because of a lack of an external market. Through this research, we determined this was a tremendous opportunity for us to create that bridge we always wanted to create. We felt a responsibility to do it once we saw how we could be of help to those struggling farmers in the Dominican that we met.
We launched Caribe Exotic in August 2014, a line of cold pressed and HPP juices made with fruits only sourced from the Dominican Republic. We started the business in a very effectual way; we relied on a lot of trial and error to get the brand, team, and product to where it is today. We have spent the past two and a half years learning, adjusting, and growing.
Caribe Exotic today
Today, we offer two lines of cold pressed juices both all natural, very tasty, and nutritious, one low calorie and the other one with a base of cold pressed cane juice. We are buying the entire production yield of eight small farmers in the Dominican Republic, and partial production yield of five others.
We are also working on a round of investment to help us expand in the next few years. Additionally, we are talking with the Dominican Republic government to potentially build a factory there where we could make even fresher juice and potentially start selling locally.
On the sales side, we are in around 100 stores in the D.C. metro area, our area of focus. Our products are offered at all the Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Mom's Organic locations in the area. In March, we will be launching in the New York City market in Fairway Markets and Morton Williams, and by the end of the year we expect to be in more than 500 stores in the DC and NYC markets, with a plan to expand nationally in the U.S. in 2018.
For me, it has been an incredibly rewarding experience not only because of the opportunities I am creating for impoverished farmers in the Dominican Republic but also because Caribe Exotic has been a platform for my personal and professional development.
I hope that through Caribe and other opportunities, I can continue to create bridges of value between developed and developing countries.
About the author: Luis Solis is the co-founder of fruit juice brand Caribe Exotic.
Edited for length and clarity by Shannon Gausepohl. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Email your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.