Puerto Rico may soon have a new player in the specialty carbonated drinks category, with the launch of The Pop’d Shop soda brand, a product manufactured by a startup currently participating in business accelerator Parallel18’s Generation 8 cohort.
Company founder Mark Wieder said the handcrafted soda pop line — which features four different flavors: citrus, hibiscus, rosewater and coffee — is already sourcing fruit from local farmers to produce its unique flavors.
Production of the “whole ingredient, small-batch sodas” will ramp up before year’s end, as the startup’s participation in the accelerator has already secured a $20,000 equity-free grant, which it is using to buy canning equipment, said Wieder, who left his career in public utility law to pursue his passion for providing wholesome and sustainable snacks.
As part of the program, the startup should know by Aug. 7 if it will receive another $20,000 grant during a second round of funding, which he said will round out the investment in more equipment and raw materials, including a palette of aluminum cans.
He, along with girlfriend and business partner Sophie Román — whose parents are from the island — moved to Puerto Rico late last year from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Wieder ran the The Pop’d Shop. There, he sold freshly popped popcorn, handcraft soda pop, dairy-free and vegan popsicles, and pressed pop-toast sandwiches.
But, in October 2019, he closed the shop after deciding to shift fully into manufacturing. The startup has already partnered with three local farms — Finca Ilán Ilán in San Germán, House of Zen in Vega Baja, and Sandra Farms in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico — for raw materials.
“We built our canning facility [in Pennsylvania] for under $10,000 and part of that is because we took over a retail space that was already built out, so all we had to do was update that 380 square-foot space,” he said. “We’re now working on getting our manufacturing set up here [in Puerto Rico].”
The small operation in Santurce is now moving into the canning, labeling and larger-scale syrup production for the hand-crafted soda line that Wieder said is meant to appeal to the “millennial” crowd that seeks out healthy, unique drinks.
“We’ve done some taste testing locally with friends and the feedback’s great. They love spicy and juicy sodas. There’s sort of that juice culture that exists here,” he said, noting that future plans call for integrating tropical flavors such as pineapple, guava and Caribbean cherry, or “acerola.”
In Pennsylvania, The Pop’d Shop soda brand is sold in 15 specialty shops and online platforms, where the gourmet product retails for $2.99 a can.
“In Puerto Rico, we’re looking to supply to cafés, and foodie restaurants offering healthy eating options,” he said.
Meanwhile, Román — who has experience working for gourmet and higher-end bars where she learned about mixology and flavor blend combinations — is in talks with island-based manufacturing executives to shift production locally, to make the soda line in Puerto Rico, rather than continue importing it.
“A lot of beverage brands grow from capital investments, so we’re interested in seeking out other investment opportunities. We’d love to have an organization that also works specifically with canned beverage production and food and beverage distributors, like BrandsOf, for example,” Wieder said, of the next steps on the agenda.