Soda Press Co.’s founder Cameron Romeril has always loved food, so when he found there was a lack of choice within the premium soda and mixer category, despite a rising demand for low-sugar options, he decided to start producing his own mixers using a combination of yesteryear techniques with a modern twist. These efforts earned Soda Press Co. a Highly Commended Award at the latest NZ Food Awards, in the Artisan category. We asked Romeril to tell us more about his journey so far and what lies next.
What is your company background, how did you start the business?
“I’ve had a decent stint in advertising in many parts of the world, and it was while I lived and worked in Shanghai a few years back that I realised just how much I appreciated quality and authenticity within the wider food category. I’ve always loved food (including cocktails and my sodastream), so when moving to Australia my heart was already set on creating something tangible and meaningful with my skills.
The catalyst was a combination of pure frustration in lack of choice and knowing droves of mid-high income consumers had been driven from the soda and mixer category because it was dominated by the big players who have been far too slow to adapt to broad-changing consumer attitudes to sugar and artificial ingredients, moreover, have completely failed to develop inspiring brands or products. So we mapped the marked to see where the white-spaces were in flavour profiles and starting creating concoctions in my kitchen. We had to be low in sugar, and we had to be driving to organic status. This required turning the current syrup making model on its side. Most syrups and cordials are made in a matter of hours using lots of sugar, a token amount of high fruit concentrate and a raft of artificial flavours, colourings, and preservatives. It’s sadly been a race to the bottom and, for most consumers, it was never about price. It should always have been about what they wanted. An all too familiar pattern in the food industry but slowly and surely a few brave little souls are striving for change as seen at the NZ food awards. Our syrups take in some instances days to make; we press fresh raspberries, we make a fresh mint tea, and then we fuse these delicate flavours. It’s a combination of yesteryear techniques with a modern twist (without giving too much away).
I sold my house to start my self-funded business so ‘all chips are on the table’! This pressure certainly provides added focus, and many people appreciate the effort to take on the stalwarts.”
What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?
“We have a 500ml bottle that makes around 18 drinks and a 4L cask that makes around 140 drinks that is focused on the foodservice industry that allows them to serve craft sodas for 45 cents (making a GP of $5 a serve rather than $1). Not to mention saving the planet from more bottles and we think putting a better experience and beverage in the hands of consumer.
They are all gluten and allergen free. They are free of anything artificial and range from 80-96% organic. We are in the final stages of our Organic certification for the entire range also. We site at around 40% less sugar than tradition syrups, cordials and soft drinks and naturally we are free of any artificial additives, flavours or preservatives and ingredient traceable. We’re not a fan of stevia either.
We’ve worked just as hard on perfecting the contents as we have the ascetic context. Our brand is designed to be highly connective by being impactful, memorable and engaging. It evokes a sense of nostalgia while also delivery a contemporary desirability. The outtake branding is designed to be ubiquitous and time durable.
Most flavours are unique to market or twists on current version with a couple of unicorns too like the liquorice and lemongrass, blueberry and lime, and Raspberry and mint which are novel to market. We have also produced the worlds first clear organic Indian tonic syrup that uses real Congolese sourced Cinchona bark to achieve the naturally high quinine levels. The range caters to a wide spectrum age groups, tastes and applications (sodastream machines, cocktails, mocktails mixers, cold drinks, hot drinks, etc. ). They dial up a bygone era of flavour-forward variant, yet they are not in the least polarising.”
Has there been any recent company news?
“We’ve just doubled our staff numbers, in NZ we’ve recently assigned federal Merchants for our distribution and are seeing great results from specialty food stores, bottle stores and through to select New Worlds. In Australia, we’ve signed up Myers and are in talks with David Jones and Dan Murphy’s. We have just rolled our trademark out to 42 countries and are now ready to engage with a comprehensive list of distributors as soon as I get the chance to take a breath. We’re about to roll out another world first with a Cola variant with an interesting twist that we hope will have people talking and more importantly, drinking.”
Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?
“The great thing about Soda Press is that it appeal to a very wide base of demographics for a number of reasons and for a number of applications as mentioned. The gifting market is big for us, especially the ’thank-you’ or ‘house-warming’ gift. In the 80’s and 90’s it was a box of chocolates, for the last 16 years it’s been wine, but now we’re at a tipping point, people are looking at giving alternatives.”
Did you expect to win a prize at the NZ Food Awards? How do you think it will affect your business strategy?
“No, I didn’t, we were finalist last year with our breakthrough tonic, so it was an honour to be commended this year! The great thinking about the NZ Food Awards is that there is just nothing else to take it locally, it’s so well recognised and marketable globally and especially in Australia.”