After graduating from business school in Birmingham where he studied marketing, John Winfield got his first graduate job at BMW, but, a couple of years in, knew that the corporate sector wasn’t for him. So, he set off backpacking at the age of 22 – a decision that would ultimately lead to finding his calling.
“I was away for a year, travelling around Asia and Australia, and during my travels I came across several juice bars,” he recalls, and, having always been an advocate of healthy living, he quickly became known for his own juices. “As I was backpacking I would stay in a lot of hostels, and I would make smoothies for fellow travellers. Soon, they started calling me Dr. Juice,” he smiles.
“That led to my lightbulb moment,” he reveals, recalling his decision to set up Dr. Juice in 2008, after his parents had moved to Malta.
Since then, Dr. Juice has grown to become a household name on the islands, even earning the Founder and Managing Director the prize of EY’s Rising Star award in 2021.
Looking back on his landmark moments, John recalls a very particular instance in which he recognised the standing of the brand he had created.
“Six or so years in, when I was still working in the stores gathering recipes and data, and understanding the market; I noticed this kid walking around Tigne Point holding a cup of Dr. Juice. I then saw him again, a couple of hours later, holding the same cup. I couldn’t help asking, ‘Are you still drinking that?’ and he said ‘No, I finished it ages ago’, so of course I asked why he was still carrying it around. He said, ‘Well, because it’s cool.’ That was quite a profound moment,” he smiles.
“Shortly afterwards, we developed our concept from a juice bar operation into our first restaurant, which was the Dr. Juice restaurant in Gzira. That was a big evolution of the brand in terms of what we offered, what we stood for and what we offered the local market,” he continues, marking more milestones along the way, leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Describing how the team handled the pandemic as a noteworthy marker in the Dr. Juice journey, John says, “during COVID we grew the management team and really felt that family feeling within the company. The sense of community is really important to me. Coming together as a team and handling COVID in that way was amazing.”
Since starting Dr. Juice, John reveals that the business landscape has changed dramatically, both in terms of consumer tastes and trends.
“When I first started selling juices, people would bring the vegetable juices back and say they don’t taste good! These would include ingredients like celery, avocado, lemon and ginger, which today would be among our top sellers,” he smiles, explaining that the evolution of the knowledge in relation to health and wellbeing has been tremendous, and the tastes of the market have changed as a result.
“I also think that, especially recently, trends have really changed with regards to quick service restaurants. Delivery has really put that category in line because of the convenience factor,” he continues, noting that this has led businesses in the sector to evolve in order to stay relevant. In tandem, more and more digital channels have opened up, John adds, and with Dr. Juice being early to the market with its own app, this enabled the business to stay ahead of the curve. “We were very fortunate to have been developing that before COVID,” he reflects.
More recently, Dr. Juice also launched its first cookbook late last year, which John describes as a huge undertaking. “It features over 100 recipes going across brunch, lunch, kid’s favourites and healthy sweets. That was really us putting our passion and ideas into a book,” he says, teasing that it will be the first of many more to come.
Apart from that, he continues, moving forward, the Dr. Juice team will be working more towards convenience in keeping with the changes in consumer behaviour.
“We’ll be developing our service and our IT to continue to make our service as consistent as possible – this will feature more automation and more digital platforms for the customer. We’re also going to be introducing a system called Dr. Juice Recommends, whereby all of our products have a database of nutritional and health benefits based on our Food Wellbeing Index , and depending on what each customer feels like that day, we can tailor our recommendations of the product for them,” he says, adding that this will be launched later this year. “We believe in a wellbeing that is not just about numbers and calories, but about a holistic approach to people’s overall health.”
But that’s not all he’s got planned for the coming months. “We will also be launching our foundation. I love getting involved in the community, and this is a big pillar of Dr. Juice. Our main principles are We Live, We Love and We Give, and while I love getting involved with other charities, we’d love to start building our own so as to start raising funds for the community and making a difference,” John shares.
Delving into his thoughts on leadership, the Dr. Juice founder says that it’s important to employ your emotional intelligence so as to lead with compassion and a sense of understanding and caring for your team. “When this originates from the top it creates a culture of contribution, empowerment and engagement. It’s not about being ‘a nice guy’, it’s about allowing your employees to grow under your watch,” he maintains, pointing out that 80 percent of the people within Dr. Juice’s management team have been promoted from within.
“This retains a core culture which ultimately leads to more productivity, better results and a strong sense of community and belonging, which I think is critical in organisations today. The more distant we get with technology, the more important the workplace is in order to be seen as an environment where you are nurtured, listened to and have the ability to grow. I definitely lead with the heart, and it’s an important quality for me,” he continues.
Revealing the most important lesson he’s learnt throughout his business journey, John divulges: “there are no shortcuts to real success. Great companies are founded on good intentions.”
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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