The soda's namesake refers to the agave nectar that Stephen Anson used as an all-natural sugar substitute when he created a soda to serve at Wholly Tomato, his Denver natural-health restaurant, back in 2005. The soda was such a success that patrons often came just for that. So Anson sold his restaurant and officially launched Oogave in 2009.
The company's first break came when Vitamin Cottage picked up the soda. Then it got a loan from Whole Foods last December for $85,000, as part of the natural grocer's program to help small businesses. "The cool thing about Whole Foods is that they develop a true partnership with the recipient," says Merrell. "They're investing in companies that have good products and will help to diversify their product offering."
The terms of the loan were much better than a bank's, and the partners returned half of the money, anyway, because they decided a flash pasteurizer was unnecessary. But they did invest in a piece of equipment that can fill their bag-in-box syrup bladders in sixty seconds as opposed to ten minutes -- an important addition, given that the soda is now available in 34 states and online.
The demand for Oogave isn't surprising, given the number of people who care about healthy ingredients. Extracted from the agave plant -- the same one that gives us tequila -- agave nectar is absorbed by the body at a slower rate than other sweeteners, avoiding the common highs and crashes associated with sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
"Being a natural soda is great, but not a sufficient condition to being organic," Merrell says. "Sodas made with cane sugar are a better alternative but there are those additional steps you can go to being organic. This guarantees there are no chemicals, preservatives, or GMO products in any of our ingredients."
The Oogave partners passion for natural ingredients prompted them to take things a step further: Anson went down to Mexico and visited the actual agave fields and production facilities, a trip that not only expanded the company's understanding of production but now expands the consumer's knowledge as well (check out Oogave's Farm-to-Table online slideshow).
"We want to ensure people know exactly where their soda came from," Merrell says.
And where is Oogave going? Into a lot of households. The original six flavors are available at any Whole Foods store, while the two new flavors, vanilla cream and strawberry rhubarb, can be purchased in local restaurants and at convenience stores.