When Collin Cormier and John Peterson launched their line of Louisiana-themed soft drinks, Swamp Pop, two years ago, their goal was to make an impression in the state.
It’s gone well beyond that.
Swamp Pop’s six flavors, which feature Louisiana-sourced ingredients and are sold only in glass bottles with pry-off caps, are now being sold in 34 states. It turns out that, like craft beer, there is a growing market for craft soft drinks.
“We’ve seen a real nice response to a return to a simpler idea of what soda can be to people,” Peterson said.
Unsure of what to expect, the Lafayette entrepreneurs decided on an initial production run of 6,000 cases, which works out to 144,000 bottles. They figured if they could sell that in a year, it would show there was a market for Swamp Pop. They sold more than four times that amount in the first year, and the second year is more than 15 percent above that, Peterson said.
Swamp Pop first became available in Rouses Markets in Louisiana, and expanded in-state and eastward to stores along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Alabama, with another distributor adding stores in Florida. Cost Plus World Markets spread the soft drinks through 280 locations in most of the nation, and another distributor, Real Soda in Real Bottles, also covers the West Coast.
Launching with four flavors — cola, praline cream soda, ginger ale and satsuma fizz — Swamp Pop added root beer and a spring-summer seasonal treat, a strawberry soda named Ponchatoula Pop Rouge. The cream soda has been its best seller, Peterson said, and the strawberry flavor has been a big hit despite being seasonal. The ginger ale has been especially popular as a mixer, he said.
“We thought that the praline cream soda was going to be an interesting niche product, and what it has turned into is kind of the workhorse of the line,” Peterson said. “I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the word ‘praline’ is in there. It kind of delivers the full package of the Louisiana experience … We’re proud of how that one has done.
“The Ponchatoula Pop Rouge wasn’t one of the original four flavors we chose to launch with, just because we weren’t sure if the appeal for a strawberry soda was going to be broad enough. But, we released it last summer and it did incredibly well, and we released it again this summer and it’s done even better. We’re trying to decide now whether being seasonal works best or if it’s going to be a product that people will be interested in having year-round.”
Though bottled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Swamp Pop’s Louisiana appeal is that its makers use in-state ingredients — including cane sugar and strawberries and satsuma extract — for the flavors. But the sodas have tapped into an interest in soft drinks that harkens back to an earlier time.
Using glass bottles and cane sugar raises the price of making the drinks, but Cormier and Peterson have discovered that there is a market for old-fashioned sodas.
“We’re trying to kind of reclaim the territory that soda should be a treat,” Peterson said. “It’s kind of developed over the past couple of decades into a very competitive industry where everybody tries to position their drinks as, ‘You should have this with every meal. You should drink this four times a day. We’re going to use artificial sweeteners so you can drink it more often.’
“We’re not going to go down that road. We’re kind of taking the opposite tack, which is just, enjoy this as a treat. Enjoy it at the end of a long day. Sit on the porch with your family and catch up and have something that you truly enjoy that’s delicious.
“It’s resonating with people, which is nice to see.”