Soda takes on local flavor

When Collin Cormier noticed that Coca-Cola bottled in Mexico, which is made with cane sugar, was a popular item at his Lafayette food truck, Viva La Waffle, it got him thinking: Is there a viable market for soft drinks sweetened that way instead of with high fructose corn syrup? Especially if they have a regional flair?

He — and Louisiana — will find out soon.

Four flavors of Swamp Pop, created by Cormier and business partner John Petersen, have hit the shelves in Rouse’s Supermarkets in greater New Orleans, Lafayette, the northshore, Thibodaux, Houma, Morgan City and cities along the Mississippi coast, and Cormier said he is working to find stores to sell it in Baton Rouge.

Swamp Pop takes a retro theme beyond the use of sugar ­— all of it, by the way, produced in Louisiana. All four flavors will be available only in glass bottles with pry-off metal caps. Cormier said the cola is adapted from older recipes, harkening to a time when such drinks were marketed as health tonics.

All of the flavors have a local tang. Creating something distinctive was part of what motivated Cormier and Petersen, who partnered with the Flavorman lab in Louisville, Ky., to create cola, praline cream soda, ginger ale and satsuma — yes, satsuma — drinks.

Included in the cola recipe is brown turkey fig, a type commonly grown in Louisiana. The praline cream soda includes toasted butter and pecan extract flavorings. The ginger ale has an “assertive” ginger flavor, Cormier said, plus an unexpected touch.

“My parents, his parents, our grandparents all had little gardens in the back yard, and cucumbers were always around,” Cormier said. “There’s actually some cucumber in the ginger ale, which makes it real light and refreshing. We think it works with the ginger really well, and we’re happy with it.”

Then, there is the satsuma soda, which pays homage to the citrus fruit grown in these parts.

“We are actually using satsuma extract,” Cormier said. “We figured we could make something evocative with orange flavor. We ended up having to dig around and find some satsuma extract, because it has just a little bit of a different essence. The aroma when you pop open a satsuma fizz and smell it, it smells like picking a satsuma and breaking into that skin, those essential oils and everything.”

Moving from concept to product has been a learning experience.

Cormier and Petersen thought they could bottle Swamp Pop locally, but there are no contract bottlers in the state, so CSD Co-Packers in Scranton, Pa., is doing the job. Finding a source of Louisiana-only sugar also was more difficult than expected.

The decision to use only glass bottles was more than a desire to be retro.

Cormer said that glass holds carbonation better and is less likely to impart any unpleasant flavor to soft drinks than aluminum or plastic, which are much less expensive. The colas and cream sodas will be in amber bottles, the satsuma sodas and ginger ales in uncolored glass.

“It was a little bit harder than we expected to even track the glass down,” he said. “You sort of have to stake your claim. They do manufacturing runs every so often, and you sort of have to get in there and put your money down and reserve this glass.

“It was pretty tempting to switch to plastic. Glass is almost cost-prohibitive, but if we were making the commitment to sugar cane and everything else, we just really wanted to. So, we figure out a way to make it work, and we’re really happy with the result.”

Swamp Pop will sell in four-bottle packs for about $5, and the initial production run is about 6,000 cases, or 144,000 bottles. Cormier hopes that sales quickly justify another production run.

“It was a long process, frustrating at times, as well,” he said. “But in the end, we’re really happy.”