When Paddy Spence bought Zevia in 2010, it was around the time that the sweetener that serves as a key ingredient and inspired the zero-calorie soda brand’s name had started to become a household word. But even in the three years and change since he took over, the use of the stevia extract Reb-A has evolved tremendously, as has its presence in Zevia’s product line. The company recently enhanced its recipe to include a 99 percent Reb-A formulation, combined with monk fruit extract. The company also has expanded its market presence significantly in the past few years and now has distribution in more than 15,000 retail outlets across all major channels. Zevia also recently introduced a 10-pack for its top-selling flavors, available in natural, food, drug and mass merchandise outlets. Spence had some time to spare to share that news and other insights with Beverage World. —Jeff Cioletti
BEVERAGE WORLD: How familiar were you with stevia as a sweetener before you came on board at Zevia?
PADDY SPENCE: My involvement with stevia the ingredient predates my Zevia involvement by almost a decade. Back in 2001, I actually went off of sugar and began using stevia on a daily basis, along with my wife....And I’ve been involved with Zevia for a little over three years and what we’ve seen in that time is not only a real explosion in global regulatory acceptance for the ingredient but also consumer demand and awareness for it. I think the most recent statistic I’ve seen that was interesting is that Nielsen’s consumer panel noted that over 40 percent of U.S. households have a stevia item in their pantry—now I note that sometimes they may not even be aware of that.
BW: How has the sweetener evolved since you’ve been with the company?
SPENCE: Obviously, Stevia’s changed a tremendous amount in the last few years. When I started using stevia back in 2001, it was a murky, molasses-like substance that was extremely bitter. It’s become more pure over that time frame and flavorists and food scientists have learned to work with the ingredient more and more. When we bought the company, Zevia was using a Reb-A 80 percent. We then transitioned to a 95 percent then a 97 and now our 99 percent Reb-A. What we found that in combination with monk fruit is allowing us to get a sweeter product with less aftertaste.
BW: What’s the company’s philosophy?
SPENCE: Frankly, soda doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore. And we’re looking to provide consumers with smarter options within CSD.
BW: Zevia was fairly vocal in its support of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed big soda ban. Did you experience any backlash from the industry for that?
SPENCE: We really didn’t. More than anything, what we were interested in was raising the dialogue about how much of our caloric intake is coming from beverages. And I think the mayor’s initiative, while it didn’t go anywhere legislatively or from a regulatory standpoint, it was very effective in raising the dialogue. So, no we really didn’t get any backlash. Fans understood our position and we’re just all about smarter options.
BW: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten about the brand?
SPENCE: A lot of people have told me it’s changed their lives and it’s changed their families’ lives. And that falls into a lot of different buckets. That could be weight loss, that could be managing diabetes, that can be folks with M.S., it could be people on dialysis, who, until they found Zevia, were unable to drink cola because conventional colas have phosphoric acid—which we don’t have. So it’s been a whole range of things. It’s families with kids whose kids have never had soda; their parents wouldn’t let them until they discovered Zevia. The most gratifying thing is we’ve changed people’s lives for the better and we get that feedback every day.