Wellness Covergirl: Urban Remedy partners with Cindy Crawford to supercharge its wellness brand

By Michael Carney , written on February 4, 2014

From The News Desk

Not all celebrity endorsements are created equal. We’ve seen countless mismatched star-brand combos and disingenuous endorsements that prioritize endorsement money over delivering customer value. But there's a powerful synergy when, in those rare cases, the right celebrity is aligned with the right brand at the right moment. Jessica Alba and Honest, the green products company she co-founded and continues to be deeply involved with, is one those success stories.

Nutrition and lifestyle startup Urban Remedy believes it has secured a similar type of relationship, announcing today the addition of Cindy Crawford as a brand partner and advisor. Crawford, the former supermodel turned entrepreneur, did not invest in the company but will become an equity owner as a result of her role.

Urban Remedy was founded by licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and certified Chinese nutritionist Neka Pasquale, L.Ac. M.S., and backed by Santa Monica technology studio and incubator Science, Inc. The company offers a menu of certified organic, gluten-free, and grain-free foods, including fresh pressed juices, juice cleanses, salads, wraps, and snacks, as well as educational content to its growing wellness community.

While Crawford didn’t found Urban Remedy, the soon-to-be 48 year old is a believable and appealing proponent. The size of the wellness industry is tough to gauge but is likely in the billions, and driven by baby boomers and parents, of which Crawford is both.

Crawford has shown herself to be an astute business woman who has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, primarily through direct-to-consumer TV. She has interests in cosmetics via Meaningful Beauty for Guthy Renker, and furniture, under her Cindy Crawford Home Goods line through JC Penney. The addition of a wellness product seems like a natural extension.

All of this makes the Crawford experiment one worth running, but it by no means guarantees success. Marketing and brand building are more art than a science. And while Crawford is popular, there's no telling how she'll resonate with Urban Remedy's specific audience. Sure she's recognizable to a large segment of the population, but she's less relevant to the younger, yoga-crowd who are more likely to juice and fast. Also, while politics may not matter, Crawford endorsed Mitt Romney while the market for health and wellness seems to be more the liberal leaning.

That is to say, this is still a gamble. It's not one that appears likely to blow up in Urban Remedy's face through scandal or consumer backlash, but there's every possibility that it won't drive the impact that the company wants and thus turns out to be equity, time, and marketing dollars poorly spent.

In conjunction with the announcement, Urban Remedy released a video interview with Crawford, in which she explains why she has joined the company:

My main goal... is to shed a light on the Urban Remedy culture, which I really believe is really about giving people education but also offering really practical solutions on how to sift through all of this healthy food information, and fads, and cleanses, and fasts, and all those things that I’m interested in but sometimes I’m overwhelmed with.

Urban Remedy wasn’t lacking star power before the addition of Crawford. Pasquale does not have the household name recognition of a former CoverGirl, but the startup founder and nutrition expert has a loyal following in the wellness community while her Science co-founder and Urban Remedy advisor Peter Pham says that Pasquale could one day become the “Dr. Oz of food.”

“Food is medicine,” Pham says. “You feel better by fueling your body. We all know that. But I have no idea how Neka makes something that’s good for you that also tastes good. She’s the real deal.”

Science, based in Santa Monica, is not an adherent to the “slap a celebrity on it” style of brand building. This is the first such endorsement deal out of the more than two dozen startups it’s birthed in the last two plus years. Pham and his partner, Science CEO Mike Jones, largely discredit lazy celebrity endorsements, but as Pham says, “It’s Cindy Crawford. She’s a super-mega-global star and not many people can hold a candle to her as a celebrity business woman.”

Crawford first encountered Urban Remedy when Pasquale began giving her personal wellness advice. In addition to being one of the co-faces of the product, Crawford will be involved in creating new products, and in developing packaged bundles around functions like anti-aging, weight loss, or wellness.

Unlike nearly all of its dozens of food-related startup competitors, Urban Remedy isn’t an online only business. The company has two brick and mortar retail locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as partner locations in several health clubs within the region. Long-term, Pham and Pasquale plan to blend ecommerce, retail, and direct-to-consumer sales. It’s in the latter bucket, perhaps, where Crawford could have the biggest impact.

Urban Remedy is still in growth mode and thus is not profitable overall. The company is in the process of opening a new commercial kitchen and moving to a new bottling and labeling facility. But Urban Remedy's margins are healthy, Pham says, making this an attractive business to be in.

Science has contributed at least $1 million to the business, although Pham declines to share specific figures. Without knowing how much equity Crawford received, it’s hard to assess the effect that her involvement could have on the ultimate investment returns the business generates. Still, as long as consumers will pay a premium for certified organic, gluten-free, and grain-free foods and juice cleanses sold with a CoverGirl smile, the Urban Remedy-Crawford combination should pay off.