Craft Soda, how do we start?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Bottles of Roots Soda co. Hoodoo.

Last week we reached a major milestone at Roots. We sent off our first whole pallet of soda to just one customer. This probably won’t sound like much to most folks, but believe me, at Roots, it’s a big deal. See, you have to consider where we came from.

Cast your mind back to 2012. Our dream had only just begun; and begun badly. I had left full-time employment with very little money saved up. I had blown up a few things and the once white kitchen walls of my flat were now splattered in varied fruit juice hues. I told everyone I was starting a soda company. The response was interesting with one particular standout, “have you got any better ideas? Nail files are big in India…” Undeterred I kept going forward. As I went telling my tale I was told the idea was wrong and that the plan stunk. I didn’t care too much though, because of a book I had read. I loved this book so much I sent out links and told everyone I knew to read it. None did.

The book was called The Lean Startup and it said; failing is ok. Actually you want to fail, fail lots and fail as fast as possible. It was full of stories about our distant cousins across the pond starting their own companies with very little. I read a lot more books. I read about the Japanese after the war, how they could not compete with American production. They had to think different. It made me think a lot and wonder, could we start making juice with off the shelf parts? Stuff just lying around the house? Stuff you could buy at Argos?

I read up on the history of Innocent Smoothies and I figured if those three guys could not get funding then I would never have a hope in hell. My only chance then was to hack shit from Argos. I knew about that…probably…maybe.

I used to take apart my toys to build new toys that I did not have. My mum even came home one day to find my teddies onboard an abandoned boat with a taped-on motor, battery and propellor going round and round the bath. As a teenager I could not afford the sports car I wanted. I made my own. Could I make my own production facility though for a few thousand pounds?

Before we were ready for the Farmers Markets I practiced producing my soda on a bigger scale. It took me 24 hours straight to make those first test batches. I had no mechanical means of squeezing the fruit, it was all hand and arm action. Pomegranates are a killer this way. But when you really just want to do something…

After that we moved into a restaurant kitchen. I bought a lever action fruit squeezer for 80 bucks. It helped. But I had to make more, so Jon and my brother came down to help me. It was a long day that went on into the night, the night before the market. I got a couple of hours sleep and the next morning when I tried the juice I realised it was terrible. Something had gone wrong. We cancelled our first market appearance. It was crushing but I kept going.

The next week was the hardest ever at Roots. I broke the whole process down and started again. It took me three days to make the juice for the market the following week but I did it. From the response we received it was worth it.

After a few markets we were encouraged by the feedback to go to bottling. So bottling? How do you do that then? Back to the books. Back to the net. I tried many times to do this by myself but I lost the fizz, it took forever to fill a bottle too. What about buying the plant to do this? Couldn’t afford it. The cheapest was £8,000. So I hit the books again and got to the heart of the principles. In the end I hacked together my own counter pressure filler. It was not the fastest at 100 bottles per hour but it only cost me £80. The plan then was to use brute force (long hours) to make up for the slow rate of bottling.

And that is where we are at today. From the early days, in order to make more soda with limited funds, I have had to cook up new ideas and put in long hours. These guys in the states, they did not get funding either. Undeterred they went out to prove that they made something people liked and would buy. With that proof they got their funding. That is what we are trying to do.

We brought on new stockists this month. We kept our current stockists supplied. And we sent out our first pallet to BrewDog. Every label lined up against the seam of the bottle by eye then applied with a credit card. It took two weeks all in all. Long shifts, late nights. The last shift was 30hrs for me. I wanted to have a picture of it loading into the truck for you. Unfortunately my legs gave up with severe cramps. I watched them wheel it out the door from a position of extreme pain in our HQ.

So what have I learnt? Brute force is not smart. It’s time to get smart. It’s time to figure out how we are going to raise the funds to make this on a bigger scale without all this physical agony. The banks won’t help…think Mark think!


Setting up Roots HQ.

Setting up Roots HQ.

Hand juicer.

Our citrus fruits were all juiced by hand.

Roots Soda on tap at a local farmers market.

Roots Soda on tap at a local farmers market.

Lots of bottles of Roots Soda.

Producing bottled soda down at Roots HQ.

Pallet of Roots Soda.

Our very first pallet of Roots Soda.


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