By Liz Warren-Pederson
The venture is focused on bringing the Peruvian Pichuberry fruit to the U.S. market. “Our focus is not only the fresh fruit, but also the development of processed products, such as juices and nutrition bars,” said founder and CEO Michael Popescu. “In fact, the Pichuberry Juice is launching within the next couple of months.”
Popescu said that after completing the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, the original team faced some tough decisions. “Two of our initial team members needed to relocate,” he said, “and some decided not to participate in the development of the venture. Although still linked as silent partners, they had no more input to the growth of the business.”
Popescu continued to refine the original concept with additional research. He then recruited new team members with expertise in marketing, management, agriculture, and the beverage industry. “As part of our efforts to bring the Pichuberry to market, MojoTree Farm developed a Global GAP-certified supply chain of various Pichuberry products including fresh fruit, puree, and dehydrated fruit,” Popescu said. “As we developed our supply line relationships, we began forming a multichannel distribution campaign for getting the Pichuberry into farmer’s markets, retailers, processors, elementary schools, and more.”
The company also has boots on the ground in South America: “A team member’s friend relocated to South America,” Popescu explained. “This person was a very good fit for our company so we brought him on board. Through his relationships, MojoTree Farm has been able to develop a satellite office in South America and establish a small base of operations to help us oversee shipments, support our quality control system, and promote business development.”
Stateside, MojoTree Farms made the decision to relocate to Phoenix, a more strategic produce distribution center. But the company’s ties to Tucson and the University of Arizona are strong. “Our advisory team is composed of key individuals from the University of Arizona,” Popescu said.
That includes Donna Zhang of the UA College of Pharmacy, a principal investigator on a lab study to uncover the Pichuberry’s mineral and antioxidant composition. “We are also ready to start another study pertaining to the Pichuberry’s ability to activate the human body’s internal preventive systems that are known to suppress conditions including cancer and anti-inflammatory diseases,” Popescu said.
Other research focuses on cultivating the Pichuberry in a greenhouse environment. “We are now working to elevate the demand so we can get others excited about growing this fruit,” he said.
The latter challenge is especially important. “With any new product, demand will be inconsistent at first,” Popescu explained. “With a fresh produce product, demand fluctuation can cause issues within a supply chain which in turn affect the overall quality. Additional U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for importing fruit amplify the hardships of maintaining quality.”
Key distribution relationships will help build demand: over the next two months MojoTree Farm will launch Pichuberry Juice and a Pichuberry Nutribar in seven Arizona Whole Foods Market locations. “From there, we hope to move to the regional stage and into Southern California,” he said.
Learn more about the top-ranked study programs and venture teams of the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program.