Marygrace Sexton has always been a woman with a vision. Inspired by her lifelong passion for helping people to achieve optimal health and performance, Marygrace Sexton founded Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, which today, is one of the nation’s fastest-growing and top selling premium juice brands. Under the fearless leadership of Marygrace, the Fort Pierce, Florida-based and family-operated company currently produces millions of gallons of juice each year and celebrates 31 successful years in business. Marygrace serves as a member of the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C. and uses her voice on a local level to continuously inspire young minds. Over the past two years, Natalie’s has been ranked as one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies by Inc. Magazine due to its annual sales topping $70 million in 2019 alone. Most recently, in 2020, Inc. Magazine ranked Natalie’s No. 232 on its inaugural Inc. 5000 Series: Florida list. As Marygrace oversees multiple facets of the business, she remains committed to supporting the merchants, growers and families in the places where she lives and works.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
MS: Entrepreneurship is the ability to identify opportunity and inspire others to drive toward a common goal and purpose. As an entrepreneur, it is my job to help others provide for themselves and their families. Your most valuable and essential asset is the team you build to help grow your business. For me, each day is a blessing and gift that allows me to persevere and remain resilient through all facets of business. Lastly, continuing to invest and believe in the potential of your business can create a breeding ground for success.
How did your company come to be?
MS: The story of Natalie’s begins in an orange grove with a mother pulling her daughter in a red wagon. Marygrace Sexton’s husband Bobby Sexton, a fourth-generation Florida citrus grower, dreamed of producing fresh squeezed juice but was too busy running the family’s packing house to pursue it. Marygrace knew the superior qualities of Florida citrus firsthand. Though she had exclusive access to the country’s best citrus, she didn’t have the same access to fresh juice unless she squeezed it herself or purchased it from a roadside stand. With the world’s best fruit at her fingertips, she was determined to bring her husband’s idea to fruition. Surrounded by the bounty of her husband’s groves, she pursued the idea that was first intended only to supply her own family with fresh, clean label juice. It soon after blossomed into a family-operated, women-owned business that continues to produce some of the finest juices on the market. That was nearly 30 years ago now…
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
MS: We are fortunate at Natalie’s that through the nationwide shutdowns, we have been able to keep our squeezed fresh facilities operating at full capacity. Additionally, we are grateful to continue employing over 200 workers. That said, this unprecedented time has forced us to rethink our business model as 50% of the business was dependent on food service sales. With that sector significantly reduced, we have shifted to a full retail and ecommerce strategy. This includes online and in-store promotions to satisfy a rising demand for citrus that has become prevalent in the past few weeks due to shifting consumer behaviors. As a result, our retail business has seen an uptick of 25%-45% pending the week, especially for core citrus products like Grapefruit and our classic Orange Juice varieties.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
Proud – I don’t believe in pride but one of the key moments for us occurred in 2008 when Natalie’s Juice was recognized on a national scale for the first time. It was this year that we were voted as the #1 BEST ORANGE JUICE in the country by The Today Show which put the brand on the map and drove a significant amount of attention to the website. I am honored to have accomplished this award alongside my daughter who has helped double the size of the company whilst still keeping the same core values of a startup.
Dark – The darkest moment stems from the current state of the pandemic as we’ve yet to face a similar scenario in the company’s long history. Seeing as the company started from a fourth generation citrus grower, we are empathetic to the current challenges growers are faced with as many livelihoods are at stake. With that, I never want to disappoint our team of employees and as a result expect more of myself. Therefore, we are looking for ways to partner and aid them through this time of need. Natalie’s efforts include honoring our agreements, helping improve demand through retail and offering deals for produce where applicable.
How is your company changing the landscape?
MS: Natalie’s strives to differentiate ourselves through the continued development of products that combine high-quality ingredients with functional benefits for authentically fresh, delicious juices. With this goal in mind, we are continuing to innovate and our newest line of functional cold-pressed beverages reflects this approach. The line satisfies a consumer need for the beverage industry to offer benefits such as more energy, improved hydration, better digestion and more. Hence, we’ve created a Holistic line with functional ingredients and properties to support consumers and their continued desire for health and longevity while remaining committed to producing minimally processed juices that use authentic and pure ingredients.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
MS: It is hard for me to believe in this question as the triumphs and hardships of a business are inevitable. I’ve always had the mindset that I will be learning as I go though I wish I had refined my skills earlier on ways to manage people and maximize their talents. As we continue to evolve, we’ve placed an emphasis on investing in our team’s professional success and growth. Regardless, I try to remember to keep faith in myself and the team to achieve the best version of ourselves possible.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business?
MS: Transparency is the key to our brand and personal business success. I believe that listening to our customers is key and offering them a trusted source of juice is what makes our brand successful. Transparency is equally important among our employees as it allows for their voices to be heard and fuels our growth forward.
What is your professional and personal mission statement?
MS: Don’t be the same tomorrow as you are today – use the gifts and talents given to you to learn and improve every single day.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
MS: Everyone faces challenges at certain points in their life. I find facing challenges head-on can bring a sense of satisfaction and be very fulfilling. I always look to God and my family empowers me with an enormous sense of strength. It’s wonderful to have my daughter Natalie and the namesake of the company, working with us now as the VP of Marketing. We pull together when addressing many of the business challenges and both believe wholeheartedly in our mission and product to provide consumers with an authentic source of nutrition. Knowing she believes in me motivates me to find a way through and now that she also has her own daughter, I’m driven to make the company a success for her future too.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
MS: It is hard for me to believe in success as I believe in learning everyday and trying to evolve into the best version of myself. Each day, I work hard and apply all my abilities into making it happen. Also at Natalie’s, success means giving back to the communities that help us. It’s one of our core values.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
MS: I don’t feel like the way I define success has changed but it has reaffirmed for me how important it is that we nourish our consumers and I’m proud that Natalie’s provides them with an authentic source of nutrition.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
MS: My only advice to other entrepreneurs would be to believe in yourself and build the team you need to drive growth. Most people limit themselves when they should strive for what they want. It is difficult to tell other entrepreneurs how to build and lead their teams. I think everyone has their own journey and each person will face challenges and triumphs while learning as they go.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
MS: Each day begins with a prayer and a moment of gratitude. I then clear my head for the day with a weight workout followed by a bike ride. In recent months, this has changed with at-home restrictions as I am now on my own. Seeing as we cannot ride in groups, I have done a lot of pace work with my husband – he has an electric bike and we can maintain higher speeds.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
MS: The fact that if Natalie’s continues to succeed, we have the opportunity to make a difference and improve the lives of others who may be suffering from the health crisis.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
MS: A legacy is not as important as simply knowing I had an idea for a business and in turn improved others’ livelihoods. We make authentic juices without additives for our family and other families across the nation and I’m excited for that to continue for future generations.
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