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How Spindrift Makes Natural Sodas Without High Fructose Corn Syrup (It's Harder Than You Think)

Sugary drinks are a real problem, but alternatives are hard to make.

All those anti-soda PSAs and softdrink bans have given an opening to smaller, specialty sodas such as Jones's and Boylan's, but most of those are still made with sweetened syrups. Bill Creelman aimed higher: soda that lives up to the FDA's strict labeling requirements for "fresh," without superheated concentrates or syrups. His Spindrift Soda is just fresh-squeezed fruit juice, cane sugar, and carbonated water. It sells for $2.50 per 12-ounce bottle, the tally of costs incurred because America's soda-production system isn't set up to be juice-friendy.

Step 1

Find the freshness

It took nearly a year for Creelman to figure out how to flavor the soda—mostly hunting down places whose nectar qualifies as FDA-certified fresh. "There are plenty of people who make fresh-squeezed juice on a small scale," says Creelman. "But it was next to impossible to find anyone who sold it on a commercial scale." He stitched together four suppliers, including one that ships weekly from India.

Step 2

Look for cold storage

Many facilities can brew a new soda, but few have the on-site refrigeration that Creelman's fresh juice needed. (And why would they? Concentrates in most sodas can stay at room temperature for months.) It took him weeks to find a facility with a big fridge—and then he lost the contract after the first batch, when gobs of pulpy fruit stalled production lines.

Step 3

Recruit mixing manpower

At a new facility in central Massachusetts, Creelman honed production. Then he discovered another problem: Temperature-sensitive juices can't sit out in vats the way syrups can. They have to be delivered in one-gallon plastic jugs, stored properly, and then opened at the last minute to be added and mixed by hand. That means a lot of costly manpower goes into every batch.

Step 4

Send with the fish

Bottles were tough to send to stores because most soda distributors don't ship cold. (Again, why would they? Normal soda easily ships warm, and big juice companies have their own trucks.) So Creelman found distributors of fish, produce, and cheese willing to take his bottles to more than 200 retailers. "Without exception, our distributors have no prior experience with beverages," says Creelman.

Step 5

Follow the trail

Some shops aren't used to ordering soda through a fish distributor, so Creelman has to travel and explain the process in person. This was initially a hassle, but Creelman now feels fortunate: Unlike typical biweekly beverage distribution, fresh distributors deliver daily, allowing them to quickly spot and respond to problems. "The fresh distributors are the key to our success," says Creelman.

Illustration by McKibillo

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A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.