By Chris Meehan | Sep 20, 2015
Rocky Mountain Soda Co. started with root beer. Now it's maintaining a portfolio of 10 classic sodas, and some that could only come from Colorado, like Evergreen Elderberry and Palisade Peaches & Cream.
The company launched when Koons and his partners, Drew Fulton and Rory Donovan, were working with Peach Street Distillers. At the time, Koons, a sales rep for Peach Street, was also repping a soda company that shut down, so Koons and his partners purchased its assets.
"We thought, 'What could we do to make this better? We could have a great cocktail mixer as well as well as a great soda,'" he says. "We could make it with clean ingredients and take out some of the things like sodium benzoate and things that are pretty harmful in soda."
In early 2015, the company acquired Oogave, another Colorado-based soda company, adding another seven flavors to its lineup. The deal also allowed the company to buy Oogave's bottling line, which it already was using.
It's the company's third bottling line, after outgrowing their second facility and co-packing with Oogave since 2012. "They were great guys," Koons says. "In 2014, they had interest in selling. In 2015, we finalized the deal and moved to their facility which really quadrupled our manufacturing capacity. We went from a 15-head filler to a 41-head filler and doubled our space."
Now the company's all-natural sodas and Oogave's are in Whole Foods and other stores and the company is expanding its soda bag in box (BIB) program, which allows restaurants and others to offer its all-natural Rocky Mountain Sodas and organic Oogave sodas in fountain machines.
Koons explains that the soda machines found all over the world aren't exclusive to Big Soda. "A lot of restaurants don't understand that they have resources outside Coke and Pepsi," he says. He says Rocky Mountain Soda's products are only offered at a slight premium to the products offered by the big players.
"It's an area that's really important for us," Koons says. "If you have a fountain you're pulling margins between 82 percent and 96 percent."
"We're the only organic soda BIB that's available for BIB sales and all the only all-natural soda that doesn't use sodium benzoate. We see that as a big growth sector for us," Koons says.
Fast-casual, health-focused restaurants like Native Foods, The Melt, and New York City's Witchcraft are selling or testing Rocky Mountain and Oogave's sodas in their fountain machines. In Denver, the sodas are also in Linger and Ophelia's. "It's a great market to have and be able to provide an organic bag in box option and be the only ones doing it."
"We're getting calls from everywhere," Koons says. That includes inquiries as far away as Australia. "Yesterday I had 12 inquiries. . . . We have so many conscientious buyers and consumers out there now, so we kind of found a niche at the right time and place."
The company also is fielding inquiries from King Soopers, City Market, and Lucky's Market. "We developed relationships with shops and small grocery stores that we helped manage ourselves to make sure we were sustainable enough in order to go after big accounts," Koons explains. "It's a real slow process for us. We don't jump into anything."
Challenges: "Making sure we're growing in the right way and not just growing to to grow," Koons says. That means making sure that as the company grows its policies and procedures grow with it.
Opportunities: "Consumer education," Koons says. "Some consumers have left soda altogether. But now they can come back."
Needs: "Equipment. We are getting to where we need to plan for scalability," Koons says.