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Juice Company Plans IPO

That’s mostly thanks to new legislation in California, which bans soda in public schools but allows carbonated all-fruit beverages and a recent agreement with a Canadian distributor.

“We’re selling truckloads out there in California every month,” says Bill Hargis, president and chief executive of the company. “It’s just not stopping.”

The timing couldn’t be better. As more parents and school systems such as California’s cut back on fast-food and sugar-filled sodas, The Switch, which adds little sugar and no preservatives to its carbonated 100-percent juice brews, has found a niche.

The company is selling its beverages to schools in California, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and Seattle, and is distributing at some of the largest retail chains in the country, including Kroger and Giant Foods, and locally at Ukrop’s Super Markets. And that’s just scratching the surface, Hargis says.

Earlier this year, The Switch received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be on the federal school-lunch program. California will allow the drink into its schools starting July 1. And the company’s new Canadian partner is Cott Beverages, which will manufacture and distribute The Switch throughout Canada.

The company is also adding a new flavor to its roster: Tropical Punch.

All the new business has pushed the company to a crossroads, says Mac Downs, senior vice president of Anderson & Strudwick.The Richmond brokerage firm is underwriting Switch’s planned IPO. Downs says the company’s stock will probably trade on the Nasdaq.

In order to become profitable — to date the company is still in the red — it needs the capital to generate the additional volume and become more self-sufficient, Downs says. Switch contracts out manufacturing and distribution to three facilities in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and California. But it needs more.

Some of the company’s investors include Jim Ukrop, Gov. Mark Warner (before he became governor), Peter Lynch of Fidelity Management and Leon K. Stepanian of Loveland Distributing. — Scott Bass

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