Breaking Soda’s Stranglehold

For decades there was an unwavering belief in the goodness of milk and orange juice.

Soda energized and pleased palates without suspicion.

The Coca-Cola Company fostered the belief that it was “teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony” not expanding a corporate brand across the globe, at times, in places where clean sources of water were most needed.

Then came a reckoning…

The rise of “function” as a new perspective on the role of food and beverage is documented in a forthcoming book in New Zealand written by Lisa A. Lewis. 

Lewis points to a  social-cultural shift in first-world attitudes about commercialised food and drink and increased recognition of big business manipulation of natural abundance from the land and the sacrifice of nutrition for corporate profit. 

She narrows her focus to the unhealthy beverage regime promoted by Big Soda and relates the important, but largely unacknowledged, role of entrepreneurs in the USA and New Zealand in innovating “better for you” challenger brands.  

BETTER FOR YOU: Entrepreneurs Who Broke Big Soda’s Stranglehold on the USA and New Zealand, in stores today, may come across as a lofty research project, but it had a simple beginning.

Lisa A. Lewis, Author of BETTER FOR YOU: Entrepreneurs Who Broke Big Soda’s Stranglehold on the USA and New Zealand

“It actually traces back to a ‘kiwi bloke’ who came to America to ‘give it a go’ with an artisanal kiwifruit drink he created,” explains Lewis.

“I had been living in Auckland when my circumstances changed, ironically, after just receiving permanent residency, and I had to move back to Los Angeles.” 

Hoping to find a kiwi connection, she placed a Facebook post in “Kiwis in LA” about a room for rent which led to Glenn Elliott becoming her flatmate.

“Not until engaging with Glenn’s venture, did I become aware of the rows of alternative healthy drinks at my supermarket.”

A large section of her book presents the dramatic cross-cultural episodes related to Elliott’s brand, King of Kiwi, during his 2+ years of trips back and forth from New Zealand to his point of operations in America – Lewis’ spare bedroom!

Other book sections resulted from Lewis becoming inspired to explore change in the global beverage industry.

She traced the development of ideas about how to make recreational drinks healthier, and observed parallels with the earliest American healthy drink brands, but was surprised to learn entrepreneurs started the US brands she investigated – Silk Milk, GT’s Kombucha, Smartwater and Vitaminwater, Vita Coco Coconut Water, and POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice.

Returning to New Zealand, Lewis encountered healthy alternatives to soda also being originated by entrepreneurs but with an additional notable difficulty – the consolidated foreign control of the NZ beverage market. 

Phoenix Organic began as a response to the limited choice of drinks offered by Coca-Cola. 

In true kiwi-style, the founders began by brewing ginger-fizz in a bathtub, bottling in sterilized Steinlager toss offs, and distributing within their community of urban farmers in Auckland.

Rows of ‘functional beverages’ in Los Angeles.

The emergence of the café trade boosted the brand to a professional level and increased sales.

Lewis fills in the history of the “iconic kiwi brand” and the disheartening story of how it ended up in foreign hands.

“Many New Zealanders still believe it’s ‘kiwi-owned,’ says Lewis who hopes to set the record straight. 

She connects Phoenix Organic to the origin story of the more recently launched brand, Karma Cola, co-founded by one of the original founders of Phoenix, Chis Morrison.

Its fizzy drinks range advances the challenge to Coca-Cola through ethical, fair-trade operations, healthier ingredients, and a commitment to New Zealand ownership.

Drink entrepreneurs are rapidly innovating brands in New Zealand, including the Van Dyke sisters, a female team out of Nelson, who create hydrating energy drinks and juices in their solar-powered facility.

The stable success of Lifestyle Drinks in NZ, believes Lewis, will depend on increased financial resources from government and venture investors, enlightened export strategies, and an educated and activist consumer base willing to pay a little bit more for quality, ethical, sustainably-produced, New Zealand-owned brands. 

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