In a fashion fast becoming typical, once again it has been an age since the last instalment in the continuing Roots Soda Co. saga. Rest assured though that this adventure and the great soda revolution as a whole continues. Albeit a little slower than planned for now.
At Roots Soda Co. I always want to give an honest account of what I am trying to achieve through my naivety. I have on occasion considered tweeting about all the mundane comings and goings at Roots like; “currently mopping the floor,” or “filling the van up with diesel.” Or better still, “capper just broke, going to have a nightmare trying to get these deliveries out on time!” I am not really into the idea of projecting an image of “everything is awesome” at Roots on social media all of the time. A.K.A. baloney.
Every so often I get pretty down on myself. For the last couple of weeks I have been really frustrated with my progress overhauling Roots Soda Co. At this stage I would have preferred us to be a little further ahead and now producing soda on a bigger scale. However, after taking several photos this weekend for this here blog, I realised just how far things have come. We are just weeks away now from being where I dreamt to be when this journey started April 2012.
I thought I’d do a wee before and after comparison to give you all an idea how it all started, and where it is at now. I also want to tell you about the bits that sucked too during this process.
Roots started in my kitchen and I produced about 250mls of juice per go, or one glass full. Next came two 11 litre Cornelius kegs which we used to make 22 litres of soda each week for the Edinburgh Farmers Markets.
Fast forward to January 2013 when we got the keys to our little industrial unit in Granton, Edinburgh. We bought four 19 litre Cornelius kegs but to begin with we could only produce 36 litres of soda a week. After much practice making our soda we began to scale up, doubling our capacity several times until we reached 152 litres, or eight 19 litre Cornelius kegs per week. At that point working really longs hours everyday of the week we produced enough soda so that we could sell an entire pallet to one customer.
Below is a photo of Roots HQ early 2013. All the equipment in the world that we had to make that pallet of soda on, is in this image.
With such limited funds we could not afford bottle filling and bottle labelling machines. Undeterred, every bottle was filled by hand. Every label was applied by hand. One crate of 12 soda bottles took a quarter of an hour to label. There are 96 crates on that pallet.
The picture below is taken during the first trial bottling run as Roots HQ was being setup. That’s it, the entire bottling kit right there…
Compare the two photos below. In the first we have just moved into Roots HQ and I am dismantling the old kitchen, which is all the stuff in the middle of the photo. To the bottom left is all our equipment from the Farmers Market days except for the four new Cornelius Kegs (they are the silver things with black or orange tops).
Hit the fast forward button again and you have Roots HQ, August 2014 below.
Below is a picture of a single 19 litre Cornelius keg with our new 1,200 litre conditioning tank.
The view from our new bottle labelling machine.
Early in the Roots Soda Co. journey I read a number of books concerning the manufacture of carbonated soft drinks. These books were written for, or by, the fizzy giants themselves.
A great deal of what those books contained was not applicable to the manufacture of our sodas. As we do not make our juice in the same way, we had to look elsewhere for much of our equipment. Starting small allowed me to test ideas without the risk of loosing great big batches of soda, or pouring funds into equipment that we would later find to be unsuitable. Throughout 2013 we figured out how to make our soda and this allowed us to hack together a production setup from brewery, winery, and commercial kitchen equipment that you see in those photos today.
Carbonated Soft Drinks: Formulation and Manufacture
Formulation and Production of Carbonated Soft Drinks
We did learn a thing or two from their books about water treatment though. Even in the beginning, I found small scale equivalents of what they used, such as carbon filters, off the shelf. Early last year we would filter 76 litres of water through tiny filters in 2.4 litre jugs, one drip at a time, which took hours. Now it takes no time at all as our water passes through three industrial sized filters, ensuring that we have a great starting point for our soda without any off flavour causing nasties.
A lot of work has gone on overhauling our production system, however it was not alone as we have essentially overhauled everything at Roots! It has not always gone exactly to plan either. For instance, we sought out a company to manufacture our new labels towards the end of 2013. After choosing a company early 2014 we received their version of our label artwork, or what our actual printed labels would look like. What we received was not right. Some not right a little bit, and some not right a lot. One week later it was confirmed to us that they could not manufacture our labels as per our artwork. I could have let the changes they suggested pass in order to save time and money but I refused. We have always drawn a line in the sand no matter how trivial when it comes to our product. So we started again and found someone else who could print the labels exactly as we wanted them. This set us back over a month.
The first label image below is our own artwork, the one underneath was rejected due to the black outlines around all the white areas.
Far worse was our new Smokestack Lightning label below. Our artwork is first followed by the printers version underneath.
We also overhauled our outer packaging so that they would be more flexible. This allows us to print direct to labels, applied to each case, containing product information, and any additional information that some of our customers have requested.
Lastly we have even overhauled all our administrative systems. Last year we had such little funds that fancy software was not an option. Pretty soon record keeping became a nightmare. I decided this year to get the software we needed and the long slow laborious process, of transferring everything over from paper began.
Below our office setup 2013 which was the only area at Roots HQ to be painted in our loud colours.
Roots Office August 2014.
Finally, we have overcome the issues in our last blog with distribution and making money at Roots. We are hitting our required margins and there is room in our cost structure to allow for distribution. We have managed to change all our packaging which allows us to print the required best before dates, and batch numbers, to each label and then apply them to our bottles much faster. We can also print any additional information that some of our customers require to each of our cases. We have changed over all our admin, simplifying the process and putting it all on one computerised system. All our new production equipment is now here. We just need to push hard now over the next few weeks and get it all up and running. Then we can get back to concentrating on soda making, and spreading word of the great soda revolution.
One last thing. I want to thank all our customers from the bottom of my heart, who have endured long waiting times for our soda while all these changes have gone on. Nearly there.
Peace be with you brothers and sisters.
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