Cider Corner: Why an NA Soda Made Sense for Blake’s

Dry January and Dry February are becoming increasingly popular with drinkers who are looking to reset after the new year. 

Late January also coincided with the timing of Blake’s Hard Cider launching its first non-alcoholic beverage in the brand’s 10-year history — a probiotic fruit-flavored soda called Sorta Pop .

Being a grower and a producer of a fruit-based beverage like hard cider gave the Armada, Michigan orchard a leg-up when conducting research and design for a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage, Director of Marketing Chelsea Cox said. 

“We had the team and resources at our fingertips to do this not only well, but better than the competitors we sampled,” Cox said, “Our product development and marketing team are in-house as well, so we were able to pivot quickly once the idea was through the screening phase.

“Having a state-of-the-art production facility with two canning/packaging lines also gave an advantage and we were able to avoid co-packing fees.”

Cox said Blake’s Hard Cider followed the same product development/roadmap steps as hard cider, using internal and external surveying and focus groups to ensure they were creating a beverage everyone would enjoy.

“We spent so much time in the beginning stages trying to get to know our customer and their habits, to ensure we made a product that hit the mark from a nutrition stats standpoint to the playful packaging,” Cox said. “All these efforts in research and development are wasted if you make a great product for the wrong person.”

Sorta Pop is available in three flavors: tangerine, strawberry-watermelon-cucumber, and lemon lime, all made with real fruit. The better-for-you beverage is gluten and caffeine-free with 25 calories or less, and only three to six grams of sugar from the addition of monk fruit. The new beverages are packed with over a million probiotics per can to support digestive balance and gut health. Single serve 12-ounce cans will sell for $2.49 MSRP. 

Bur what about the cider products and its customers? Cox said the company saw the new brand as mutually beneficial and would shed light on their products that were, in general, “fruit-forward and farm vs. factory.”

“We are using our Blake’s Hard Cider and Blake’s Orchard channels to build awareness for Sorta Pop since they are established, and the content is relevant to both audiences,” Cox said. “Our customers have been asking for a non-alcoholic option, so naturally we want to tell the Sorta Pop story to the people who wanted it most. On the other side of the coin, we absolutely see Sorta Pop as an entry to the Blake’s Hard Cider product line for of-age consumers.”

The hope is that once the Sorta Pop customer experiences a carbonated soda with real fruit and more flavor than competitors, they will be curious to try other options in our beverage portfolio, she explained.

“We are changing the minds and habits of consumers by pushing the boundaries of what better-for-you soda should taste like, and likewise on the hard cider side,” Cox said.

The process for making the new beverage was uncomplicated.

“The probiotic is a bacillus species, which is a lactic acid producing bacteria that arrives to us in powder form and is aseptically reconstituted into the product before packaging,” Cox said. “This type of bacteria can be found in many types of yogurts and probiotic foods.”

The biggest challenge was understanding the nature of the liquid composition. 

“As we studied the pre- and probiotic space, we quickly discovered our desire to produce a product that was better than what was on shelves,” Cox said. “I would argue that the space we are playing in is not crowded, the category is relatively young, and we stand out with our superior liquid, marketing, messaging, and our farm story cannot be replicated. You can physically visit our business and try our products from the source. This reinforces the authentic message behind all of our products.”

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