Bottom Line: There is more to Hailey Nutt’s beverage line than fruits and vegetables. No wonder her drinks are catching on.
Running Hailey Nutt’s Tribal, a wholesale and distribution juice business, is a hands-on job. Nutt, a Chickasaw tribal member, hand-cuts her organic produce before throwing it down a chute that cold-presses nutrient-rich beverages. Each bottle that emerges contains three to five pounds of organic vegetables and/or fruits.
“It’s been crazy,” Nutt said of her 15-month-old, Dallas-based company. “We still hand-label, hand-bottle, hand-batch everything.”
Her juice is never heated and has nothing added—no sugar, not even water.
“A lot of juice companies will add water for economical reasons to stretch it, but the focus for our company is very, very flavor-forward,” Nutt said. “We also wanted our line to be very colorful with a lot of differentiation, because it shows that with these food products, you don’t have to add any food coloring or chemicals. Look how bright and vibrant these are with just those ingredients.”
Her approach is taking hold. Nutt started her LLC on Legal Zoom in November 2014, when she was just 25. Today, Tribal is sold at about two dozen local grocery stores in Texas, including Central Market, an upscale organic and fine foods retailer with nine locations.
“Central Market is proud to partner with Tribal because they provide a quality product for our customers who look for brands with integrity and value product transparency,” said Central Market spokesperson Heather Senter.
The brand’s color spectrum has made the juice bottles a fashion statement and Instagram sensation, with pretty liquids in shades like rich magenta, lemon-lime, tangerine, sunburst yellow, pumpkin sunset, ruby red, and a variety of greens from a bold grassy to a soft forest.
Nutt’s Native roots have inspired the names of her products. As a raw food culinary chef, she decided on the vegetable/fruit and flavor components first; the branding followed naturally, during a brainstorming session. “No pun intended, but it was organic how the names came.”
The Tribal juice lineup includes the kale-based “Chief”; a citrus-turmeric blend dubbed “Medicine Man”; the romaine lettuce-hydrating “Rain Dance”; the “Smudge” (with a kick of jalapeño, cilantro and sage); the beet-red “Beats”; and a healthy punch called “Pony Up”—a collaboration with the athletics department at Southern Methodist University (SMU).
An athlete herself, Nutt was a basketball player at the University of Arkansas before transferring to the University of Mississippi, where her business partner and boyfriend Brenton Phillips played football. That experience helped inform her enterprise.
“I’ve been in the weight rooms, and I’ve seen what they [athletes] are putting in their bodies, and sometimes it’s not all fresh and premium, good ingredients,” Nutt said. “We partnered up with SMU, and now their entire athletic department is drinking a couple of our juices.”
She also crafts some seasonal blends. “Sunshine” milks fresh watermelon, pineapple, lime and mint; and her cool-weather special “Harvest” packs sweet potatoes along with carrot, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon and ginger. “It tastes like fall in a bottle.”
Tribal juices are cold-pressed, USDA- and NICS-certified organic and gluten-free. Nor do their bottles contain the chemical bisphenol A, which some research has shown can seep into food or beverages.
Most of Nutt’s certified organic produce comes from Fresh Point, the largest organic supplier in the nation. To meet FDA requirements for certified organic foods as well as shelf-stable products, Nutt adheres to strict guidelines. After extracting juice from pulp, Tribal takes its juice-filled bottles through the “cold pressure” process, a necessary step to meet FDA safety protocols and afford a shelf life of 30-plus days.
Nutt has jumped through hoops to ensure her company is qualified as certified organic. Managing Tribal’s accounting system has proved equally challenging. In fact, her number-one piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are building companies from the ground up is this: “Start your books perfect from the get-go.”
Now Nutt is trying to increase supply to meet demand. “We’re growing really rapidly, and trying to keep a handle on our production. We don’t have a broker; we make our own deals. We learn by trial and error.”
The young entrepreneur continues to oversee the growth of her business nearly single-handedly. Thus far, Tribal has been bootstrap-financed with personal, family and friend money. Recently Nutt entered talks with investors to expand Tribal by revving up production to stock more grocery store shelves across Texas and, eventually, nationally.
Other changes on the horizon include a revamped e-commerce website and, potentially, a storefront so she and Brenton Phillips can do what they do best—foster community by interacting with their clientele face-to-face.
“We’re a Chickasaw-owned company, but, it’s also about connection and community
from all walks of life,” Nutt said. “Distribution is great, but Brenton’s and [my] strengths are connection and community.”
While the family resides in the greater Dallas area, they stay connected to their tribal heritage. “It was very important to me to instill that Chickasaw pride in all of my children just as my mother and grandfather had done,” said mother Diana Nutt.
Two months after Tribal’s launch, Nutt and her family visited Ada, Oklahoma, to participate in the Chickasaw Festival and share their product with their fellow tribal members. “They really liked the watermelon flavor,” said Nutt. “It’s one of my goals to be able to do more things like that out in the [Chickasaw] community and to have them be involved.”
As a certified nutritionist, Nutt also has bigger dreams of educating Indian country and the nation about healthy living. “I dream that one day we will be big enough so we can introduce people to healthier living. I think it would be really awesome for us to partner up with the Indian community.”
The greatest hindrance to health “in the Native community and our entire nation,” she acknowledged, “is lack of education, lack of knowledge.”
Recently, the current juice-cleanse fad has caught much media criticism, and Nutt is aware of it.
Although Tribal does offer juice cleanse options—for one, three or five days—Nutt is quick to say that cleanses are not Tribal’s focus. She is also vigilant about cautious guidance and support through the cleansing process, providing clients with her personal email address to keep her updated on their progress.
“I say that when people reach out about cleanses, if they’re going to continue to be active and continue to work, then I really suggest implementing food,” i.e. wholesome snacks like avocados, sweet potatoes and nuts. “We give them instructions.”
Another key premise of Tribal is keeping thing playful. “If you’re a health nut and you want all greens, here you go,” she said, pointing to a bottle of Tribal’s vegetable-dense “Chief.” “I think the main thing about our company that I want to really, really get across is that you can have a delicious, flavor-forward, great-tasting product to go along with your healthy life.”
Moving forward, Tribal plans to introduce a “party pack,” a fun-inspired pairing of juices-to-go, for drinking straight or mixing as a cocktail, if preferred. Tribal has partnered with a couple of renowned Dallas bars to offer fresh-squeezed juice cocktails to an increasingly discerning clientele in the heyday of craft cocktail connoisseurship.
Currently, Tribal juice cocktails can be found at Lark on the Park, a contemporary urban restaurant overlooking Klyde Warren Park, commonly known as the Central Park of downtown Dallas. Other beverages made with fresh Tribal juice are sold at HG Sply Co, a hip restaurant situated on Dallas’ popular Greenville Avenue.
Ultimately, Nutt wants to dissolve the pretense often associated with health trends. “We want to have a fun, inviting, everyone’s welcome kind of voice.”
She added, “You don’t have to be an extreme hippie to like juice. You can love pizza and like juice.”
Originally published in summer 2016 by Indian Country Media Network