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Lisa A. Lewis’ new book, BETTER FOR YOU: Entrepreneurs Who Broke Big Soda’s Stranglehold on the US and New Zealand captures the zeitgeist of the age and delivers a unique view of a changing world, where doing good is an essential part of doing well.

There was a time when America’s top recreational sodas energized and pleased palates without suspicions being raised about ingredients or marketing claims. The Coca-Cola Company fostered the belief that it was “teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony” not expanding a corporate brand across the globe. Soda pared perfectly with a diet rich in sugar, fats, carbohydrates, and highly processed foods. Then came a reckoning.

The global consolidation of food and beverage under corporate control began to be recognised. The sacrifice of nutrition in the interest of maximizing profits became untenable. Consumers started speaking out, disrupting the nutritional status quo.

BETTER FOR YOU presents profiles of influential entrepreneurs who dared to create innovative, “better for you” beverages. In the US, “function” became the catchword, and industry category, for drinks promoting health. In New Zealand, the market grew to include “Lifestyle Drinks,” products focused on organic ingredients produced under ethical business practices.

The Kiwi motivation to disrupt Big Soda was like that of the Americans, but with the notable additional challenge of confronting foreign control of the New Zealand beverage industry. When the Kiwi founders of Phoenix Organic began circulating their bathtub-produced ginger fizz in the 1980s, fruit juice and Coca-Cola were essentially the only drinks available in the country. Leaping forward to 2017, a New Zealand government report on the state of the beverage industry admitted soda in New Zealand was foreign-owned, and that juice had largely suffered the same fate. What started out as the NZ Apple & Pear Marketing Board had become a division of the huge Japanese company, Suntory.

That same report provided the first inkling of the lifestyle drink movement flying under the radar in New Zealand. It identified, under the awkward label of OFBs, short for “other flavoured beverages,” entrepreneur-originated drinks that were becoming visible domestically and even pioneering export. Low resolution photographs of brands, Karma Cola and Chia, which included a snapshot of Chia displayed on a store shelf in Singapore, signalled something new was happening. Supermarkets provided perhaps the first mass acknowledgement of the new product category when they hung the sign, “Lifestyle Drinks,”  over the aisle where the burgeoning Kiwi-originated drinks could be located.

BETTER FOR YOU takes time to unravel the market dynamics, economic frameworks, business beliefs, and cultural distinctions that led entrepreneurs in two distant countries to create challenger brands.

The book’s stories of Kiwi drink brands and their founders raise questions about culture and commerce: How did Phoenix Organic, an iconic Kiwi brand, come to be foreign-owned? How is Karma Cola going head-to-head with Big Soda? How does leadership from Chia Sisters founders dismantle Tall Poppy culture? Why did a successful Māori-led drink brand forgo export? Is it possible for a Kiwi to “give it a go” in the sizable US beverage industry?

 

BETTER FOR YOU by Lisa A. Lewis is now available for purchase through Nationwide Book Distributors and is available in stores from 2 August 2021, RRP: $35.00.

Glenn Baker

Professional writer/editor with 35-plus years experience - including radio copywriting, various television writing/production roles, and writing for business magazines. I have also co-owned a wholesale food distribution business.

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