Polynesian weightlifter presses a natural energy juice in Marina.

Uce CEO James Anderson and his brothers Jeremy Wright, Mike Anderson and Will Lualemano model Uce bottles and muscles.

ames Anderson wants to pump some juice in everyone’s veins. Don’t worry: It doesn’t involve needles or cause shrinkage of any body part.

A little apple, banana, mango, pineapple, taro and a Polynesian fruit called thenoni berry – plus the caffeine load of two-and-a-half cups of coffee – make up Taro Twist, the original (and so far only) flavor of Uce Juice. Not that the company’s CEO has tried it.

Anderson’s never tasted his own product – and won’t, until Uce hits its sales goal of $1 million. He says that’s for motivation, a driving force for the weightlifter. But he dislikes energy drinks anyway (and doesn’t do coffee).

“[Uce] is all about the consumer – not for me,” he says. “I don’t need to taste it yet.”

He’s been pumping Uce out of a small facility in Marina since 2010, when a car accident inspired him to quit his other job as a produce delivery driver. He claims he now turns down almost 90 percent of orders because the company can’t keep up with demand while maintaining its quality.

It’s quite a leap for a CEO who, in 2007, thought of Uce as a joke.

The concept, he says, was sparked when he told a coffee-dependent workout buddy he didn’t need anything to get him going in the morning.

“SAMOANS COME OUT OF THE WOMB WEIGHTLIFTING!”

“Samoans come out of the womb weightlifting!” he jokes.

Although Anderson firmly believed in natural get-up-and-go, he realized many others leaned on caffeine. In 2010, he started taking the idea of manufacturing his own energy drink seriously. But he needed help to get it off the ground.

Uso means “brother” in Samoan. Anderson grew up with six, and he confronted them one day: “You guys want to do something other than sit on this couch?” With a little help from his buff bros, Anderson now overlooks the whole Uce production, dividing his brothers into marketing, communication and distribution teams.

Uce comes in a simple navy-blue bottle adorned with Polynesian designs – a tribute to Anderson’s Samoan heritage and Uce’s ingredients, which include fruit-juice concentrates, sugar, “natural flavor” (which he says is taro), pectin, corn syrup solids, malic acid, natural caffeine, stevia and noni-juice extract.

I’m not usually one for energy drinks that boast hours of hyperactivity. Uce, with 175 calories and 40 grams of sugar per 2.5-serving, 20-ounce bottle, doesn’t deliver the “never-ending boost” it promises – but it does give a gradual energy lift that’s better than the jolt of caffeine from my two daily cups of coffee.

Uce goes down kind of like a glass of orange juice: cold, refreshing, slightly sweet, with just enough citrus to brush off my drowsiness. It’s a lot more pleasant than the other energy drinks I’ve tried. My Taro Twist starts off strong, hitting the back of my throat with a sharp citrus flavor (probably the acidic pineapple juice). Every sip after that brings the smooth flavors of apple and mango. It’s a little thicker than most juices but far thinner than a smoothie.

Unfortunately, by 4pm during the work day, I’m fading fast despite normal meals, snacking and lots of water.

A quick sampling of reactions from Weekly staffers:

“It kind of tastes like a flat margarita,” Office Manager Linda Maceira says. That’s apparently a good thing, because she says she’d consider it as an alternative to coffee some days.

Graphic Designer Kevin Jones says he’s usually grossed out by taro, the mild root vegetable and Polynesian staple that gives Uce its delightfully mutant purple-and-blue color. “That didn’t taste bad at all,” he says.

For a person who considers herself a caffeine purist, sticks to unsweetened teas and coffees and never wants to join the ginger-apple-kale bandwagon, I find Uce’s tropical flavors acceptable for an energy drink. I like that it’s mostly just fruit juice, it tastes good, and I only need one bottle to wake me up.

Anderson is happy to hear it. “We want to market it as an alternative to those energy drinks full of artificial sugars and synthetic stuff,” he says. “We want to market to the health-conscious consumer.”

Uce delivers to local customers at $60 per case. Individual bottles are sold at 11 stores countywide (including the Marina and Main Street Salinas Shell gas stations, Seaside’s Terrace Liquors and Monterey’s Fitness Revolution) for about $3 each.

As my work day comes to close and I lay prostrate on the office couch, I read the label on the empty Uce bottle in my hand: “motivation, determination, and patience.” An unusual message to put on a juice bottle, but it’s also what keeps the Anderson brothers going. By the looks of it, this small juice business isn’t running out of energy anytime soon.

Learn more at www.ucejuice.com

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