LOS ANGELES — The Zevia brand of zero-calorie soft drinks has taken transparency to a new level — by going color-free. The company recently reformulated all 17 of its flavors, including root beer, orange, black cherry and grape, to remove caramel coloring and achieve Non-GMO Project Verification status.
“It was important for Zevia to achieve Non-GMO Project Verification because today’s consumers want authentic, transparent brands that respond to their concerns,” said Paddy Spence, chief executive officer of Zevia. “Zevia has grown rapidly because of its commitment to ‘clean’ ingredients, and we’re excited to take this bold new direction to change the way Americans think about soda.”
Since 2010, Zevia’s sales have increased sevenfold, and the brand is currently the fastest growing “natural” product according to Nielsen, Mr. Spence said. The products are sold at more than 20,000 grocery, natural and specialty food stores in the United States and Canada.
Mr. Spence explained the process of reformulating the beverages in an interview with Food Business News.
Food Business News: What drove the decision to eliminate colors from the whole range of soft drinks?
We conducted extensive consumer research and found that coloring was an important issue to diet soda drinkers. Specifically, the caramel color used in zero-calorie beverages has trace amounts of 4-MEI, a chemical that has been linked in some studies to cancer.
|Paddy Spence, c.e.o. of Zevia.|
Paddy Spence: Consumers want flavor, bubbles, sweetness and enjoyment without G.M.O. ingredients, artificial sweeteners and caramel color, so we decided to make all flavors color-free, while continuing to use plant-based sweeteners, stevia and monk fruit.
How long did it take to reformulate the products without color?
Mr. Spence: It took us almost three years to become Non-G.M.O. certified and color-free. Part of that lead time was sourcing alternatives to G.M.O. ingredients commonly found in beverages. Citric acid, for example, is generally derived from G.M.O. corn, so we had to find a non-G.M.O. alternative.
Were there any concerns the clear sodas may be a turnoff to traditional consumers who are accustomed to color?
Mr. Spence: Although consumers are used to caramel coloring commonly used in soda, we didn’t have any concerns about going color-free because Zevia aspires to be the smarter option to artificially sweetened, high-sugar/calorie drinks.
How have the soft drink industry and consumer preferences changed since you’ve been in the business, and what impact have those factors had on Zevia’s success?Mr. Spence: We’ve found with time, consumers have become more health-conscious and aware of the effects of artificial flavors, preservatives and sweeteners on the body. This has led Zevia to be the only diet soda in the top 20 not owned by Coke, Pepsi or Dr Pepper Snapple, and the fastest growing top 15 brand (of low or zero-calorie soft drinks).