Food Service & Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Small Business & Startups

Soda company hops up production

Investors have boosted Proper Soda’s distribution to other states and countries.

September 12, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Proper Soda Hop Soda
Following the success of Hop Soda, Proper Soda’s next two flavors are likely to be coffee and hibiscus. Courtesy Proper Soda Co.

A Grand Rapids soda company continues to grow, despite a failed Kickstarter campaign.

Proper Soda Co. founder Stephen Curtis launched a Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of the summer to raise $10,000 to add a second flavor to the repertoire. Currently, Proper Soda makes and distributes Hop Soda, with the intention to add up to three new flavors in new markets.

The cash raised by the Kickstarter campaign was intended to help pay for labels and for a prototype run of the winning new flavor. Two flavors were under consideration for Proper Soda’s second creation: coffee and hibiscus.

“Both are great flavor options and are flavors that I really enjoy and have had more time to develop,” Curtis said. “When the time comes for that third flavor, whichever of these does not end up the winner (for the second flavor) will definitely be considered.”

The Kickstarter campaign might not have succeeded, but it helped Curtis gain some attention and introduce more people to the product. Since the less-than-successful campaign, Proper Soda has raised funds in the range of $150,000 from private investors.

Initial funds for the new business were awarded through Start Garden, up to the $25,000 level, which helped Curtis start producing Hop Soda in 2012.

“Things have grown quite rapidly since the initial idea,” he said.

This year, he’s seen Hop Soda expand beyond its original West Michigan market into all of Michigan, as well as in Oregon, Washington, Montreal, Australia and New York. Distribution to Ohio, California, Texas and North Carolina also are on the short list.

Select Meijer stores will begin to carry Hop Soda in October.

Curtis’ first experiences with soda were when he was working at Essential Bean Coffee Shop in Caledonia in 2001 where he regularly made coffee soda and Italian sodas. He’s also a part owner in Rowster Coffee on Wealthy Street SE, which also makes a coffee soda.

His idea for a hop soda came while visiting a friend in Portland, Ore.

“He made a coffee and hop soda together for a competition, and it wasn’t very good,” Curtis said. “It wasn’t very good, but I knew I could make a better version.”

On arriving home, he picked up some hops from Brewery Vivant and tried making a coffee soda with hops. He said it was delicious, but he decided to experiment with the elements separately and found hops make a great soda on their own.

“Coffee soda is one of the more difficult sodas to produce with the sort of flavor I was looking for,” he said. “All of this caused me to decide that hop soda was a shorter trip to get to market and see if there would be any traction around a craft soda company using different and unique ingredients in the proper way.”

Hop Soda is meant to harken back to the days when beer was called ‘hop soda,’ and not so much to Prohibition when breweries turned to making non-alcoholic beverages.

The soda is made with hop extract, citric acid, carbonated water and cane sugar. The hops Curtis uses come from the Yakima Valley in Washington; there are not enough locally grown hops available. The 8.4-ounce can has 60 calories and no caffeine.

Along with being consumed on its own, the beverage can be used as a tonic substitute when making cocktails.

Currently, Proper Soda’s flavor formulation company is located near Kalamazoo. Production takes place at a plant in New Jersey, but as the company expands, Curtis said he likely will work with regional plants.

Curtis said private investors were always in the plan to help continue growth.

“Once people try it, they are likely to fall in love,” he said. “There can be an interesting, well-made soda company and it can be based here in Grand Rapids. The craft beer market has been a precursor, and the craft soda market will follow that trend, as well.”

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