SEATTLE – Next to Jones Soda, the standard cola looks boring.
What run-of-the-mill soda competes with flavors named “fufu berry,” “happy” or “blue bubble gum?” Shockingly bright soda colors ranging from green, pink, blue and yellow jump off store shelves, making the competition look bland.
Seattle’s Jones Soda Co., started by a ski bum trying to make money during the off-season, is gaining ground among young customers looking for the alternative “hip” refreshment.
The 4-year-old company now sells soda across the United States and Canada and boasted $11 million in sales last year and more than $9 million in the first six months of this year.
“Whenever you have a company that starts out small, you bring more creativity in,” said Peter van Stolk, the 37-year-old company president and chief executive who saves suits and ties for funerals and uses words like “wacked” and “no worries.”
Whether it’s the unusual pictures on the labels, fortunes inside every bottle cap or upside-down labels on the pineapple upside-down sodas, Jones Soda can safely be described as creative.
Most of Jones Sodas’ 15 flavors, like “pink” and “green apple,” smack with candy-like fruitiness. For the more traditional, flavors like “root beer,” “vanilla cola” and the best-selling “cream soda” are available. Just don’t ask van Stolk to describe his drinks.
“What does ‘pink’ taste like? It tastes like chicken,” he joked. “What do you think it tastes like?”
The success of a small, wacky company like Jones Soda isn’t too surprising. The soda business is opening up for smaller companies, said Tom Pirko, president of the Santa Barbara-based Bevmark Inc., a market research firm for the beverage industry.
“I think Coke and Pepsi are seen by most people as soft drinks by The Man,” said Brendan Powell Smith, 27, of Mountain View, Calif., an avid Jones Soda drinker. Smith has collected 883 different Jones Soda labels, which he saves by refilling bottles with colored water to match the flavor.
He is not the only collector. Jones Soda bottles, whose different labels sport more than 1,299 different photographs, have created a craze among a number of collectors and can be found on e-Bay, the Internet auction site.
Each label features a photograph, usually black and white to play off the brightly colored soda. Subjects range from people and animals to offbeat signs and unusual objects.
Jones Soda used the photographs of professional photographer Victor John Penner for the first 35 labels. After that, the company opened up the call to the public.
Jones Soda got its roots as a fruit stand in an Edmonton, Alberta, church basement when van Stolk was a ski instructor. The fruit evolved to importing juices. In 1996, the company created Jones Soda.
The company first offered its drinks at clothing stores, tattoo parlors and skateboarding shops, but has expanded into grocery and convenience stores.
While Jones Soda is moving into the mainstream, the company plans to follow the motto, “Run with the little guy.”
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