Sharelle Klaus tells BeverageDaily.com she founded DRY Soda to pair with food using culinary style flavors. “We had, like a lavender and a lemongrass, unique flavors that would pair with food, while the soda is much less sweet – there’s a quarter to a third of the sugar that you’d find in a traditional soda.”
While Europeans bemoan the lack of a developed adult soft drink/soda category, Klaus (pictured below) says she thinks the UK, for instance, at least has this category (evidenced by the tradition of adult flavors such as elderflower), whereas these kind of drinks are a bit newer in the US, and sit more in the ‘premium soft drinks’ space.
Four ingredients per line
Klaus founded DRY Soda 10 years ago and started selling it through on-premise accounts before going into retail. And when we suggest, only half seriously, that soda menus in restaurants could take off – click here to read about the potential for premium bottled water in this space – she enthuses about the possibilities.
DRY Soda’s range contains only four ingredients per line – purified carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural fruit, flower of herb flavor, clean preservative; the acidity level is tweaked across the range depending to pair with specific foods, and Klaus says the brand’s clean ingredients panel is a big differentiator.
“A proud moment for me is when [top Napa Valley restaurant] The French Laundry got us in, to show me how they were using Dry with different meal courses, and they even mixed different flavors of Dry together to make more flavors,” Klaus says.
“When I first started some sommeliers would be a bit snobby in terms of saying ‘I’m not pairing my food with a soda’, but I said ‘As a true sommelier you should be trying to help all your customers – that’s the whole point!” Well The French Laundry got that right away,” she adds.
“The first 30 restaurants I went into bought it straightaway. I wasn’t planning on going into any retailers for the first six months, but we had retailers ringing up in the first couple of weeks, to bring us in.
“So we were a little ahead of our time, that’s for sure, because this is nine years ago. Mixologists now are like chefs 10 years ago, they’re really making big money for themselves."
Seattle stronghold, but where next?
DRY Soda made its name in higher-end restaurants and then natural and specialty retailers, Klaus explains, and she says she wants to retain its premium appeal, with a price point of $1.99/12oz (340ml) bottle.
She declines to break out sales numbers, which makes it hard to benchmark DRY against other US soda brands, but Klaus insists the brand is the “the strongest growing soda in the US in every retail channel – from natural specialty to traditional”, and has enjoyed triple-digit sales growth in Canada over the past few years.
“Seattle is where we’re based, so we do have a regional stronghold there, although we’re nationwide. Most of our on-premise is in Colorado and the Northwest – Washington, Oregon,” she says. Klaus also reveals that DRY is considering a possible London launch, since the UK capital is such a foodie epicenter.
“One of the biggest attributes of the product is because we use a lot less sugar, and we only use four ingredients because it’s really about highlighting these unique flavors. And to be honest, I started this brand in my kitchen, so I didn’t have access to lots of different chemicals, things like that.”
No FMCG experience - but an entrepreneurial eye
Klaus says she doesn’t see ‘me too’ products from ‘Big Soda’ spoiling the DRY Soda party, since the likes of Coke know this won’t work. Instead, such companies are buying innovation in, and doing a pretty good job at staying ‘true’ to the values of brands such as Innocent Drinks.
“One of the things that differentiates the US market now is that consumers have a much bigger voice in what they want – they want differentiated brands, and social media really allows us to have that one-on-one connection and deep brand loyalty,” she says.
What was it about the soda circuit that drew Klaus in? “I was in high tech, so I didn’t have any FMCG experience. But I was very entrepreneurial, and really into food and wine, pairing food and wine, then I got pregnant I couldn’t drink, and became interested in something else I could pair with food,” she says.
“I looked at the carbonated trend, and realized that in the US we drink over 1,000 8oz servings per person per year – which is really high, and there hadn’t been any real innovation.
“Then on the retail side everyone was up against Coke and Pepsi – but the retailers were providing shelf space for differentiated products, natural. Many of our retailers were trying to emulate Whole Foods – so they were more than happy to give us shelf space without slotting fees,” Klaus adds.