By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
If you stop at one of the more than 600 Cracker Barrel stores these days, you will find a new product on the shelves that traces to a Chattanooga company.
Pure Sodaworks has morphed from a mobile soda fountain that Matt Rogers and his wife operated at the famous Chattanooga Market to one that is using regional bottlers to provide two of its four all natural sodas to Cracker Barrel. Those flavors are Apple Pie and Café Cola.
The shift from a mobile fountain where customers stood as many as 20 deep to buy its product to one that until recently handled its own bottling is a classic story of the evolution of an entrepreneurial idea.
Rogers is a Chattanooga native who was raised in a family of entrepreneurs. He started his own business when he was 23.
“It was a coffee shop that lasted about six months,” Rogers says, adding, “I learned a lot.”
By 2007, he and his wife had launched Everyday Eclectic, now RogersMade, where they sold all natural soaps and candles. As they traveled to events to sell their products, Rogers says they noticed that “food always wins.”
The concept for Pure Sodaworks builds on their initial focus on the “all natural space.” When they launched the mobile fountain in 2011, Rogers said their idea was to “see what happens.” The result was what he characterizes as a “fanatical following.”
A March 2012 Kickstarter campaign raised $23,000 used to buy some old bottling equipment. By early 2013, Pure Sodaworks had its first distributor.
“We expanded quickly,” Rogers says. “We actually got bigger than we could handle.” One of the reasons he cited was the fact that the bottling equipment was geared to beer production which is very labor intensive.
By the middle of 2016, Rogers says the equipment was not producing the quality of product that reflected the image of Pure Sodaworks. More important, he realized that the business was not scalable as it was currently structured.
“We were shipping water, sugar and glass everywhere,” Rogers said. “Our secret sauce was the ingredients we used.”
When the bottling machine died, Pure Sodaworks decided to make the proverbial pivot. Did it buy a new machine or take a different approach?
“The problem is not physically bottling,” Rogers explained. “It’s the space you need. The bottling machines run so fast that you need several thousand square feet of warehouse space.”
When previous conversations with Cracker Barrel produced a purchase order three days before Thanksgiving, the decision was made. For now, Pure Sodaworks is providing its extract to regional bottlers who, in turn, handle the production and shipping. The arrangement removes a number of logistical hurdles to scaling on a national basis.
“The Cracker Barrel arrangement is a seismic shift for us,” Rogers says. “We’re on a growth track . . . pushing as far and fast as we can.”
Pure Sodaworks was a recent participant in the CO.LAB accelerator program when it inked the deal with Cracker Barrel.