Soda, pop, coke or any other name you like to call it–is an American favorite. Popularized in the U.S. by brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, soda has become a part of many people’s lives as a beverage, a mixer or the base of an ice cream float. But not every bubbly beverage has to break the calorie bank. This is where GuS Soda comes in.
GuS Soda, otherwise known as Grown-up Soda, is a premium soda brand launched in 2003 in New York City by Kellogg Business School graduate Steve Hersh and his wife, Jeannette Luoh. The brand advertises lower sugar, lower calories and all kosher products.
Hersh, the son of a small businessman, said he was raised in the world of entrepreneurship. Before he himself became an entrepreneur, Hersh worked as a marketer in the consumer products industry.
While working at Schweppes as the brand manager of A&W Root Beer, Hersh tested out a project of “micro-brew” root beers, or what he called “a premium line of A&W.” Research showed that many consumers were willing to pay a higher price for a small batch drink in a glass bottle. Though A&W ultimately didn’t produce the product, Hersh kept the concept of premium sodas in the back of his mind.
“This was sort of like the spark of the idea,” Hersh said. “It was like, ‘I could do this.’”
Following his time at Schweppes, Hersh worked at a few other jobs, but after his last company went under, he lacked both a job and the motivation to keep working within the system.
“I didn’t really want to work up the ladder and become CEO of some big company, which is sort of what you have to do in the real world,” he said. “Instead of getting my resume together and working for Kraft Foods or something, I was like, ‘Screw it, this is my moment.’”
Around the time he lost his job, he met his wife, a business lawyer with knowledge of the commercial industry, and the two teamed up to launch their own unique product.
After six months of exploration of trade shows and premium stores, Hersh discovered that while many products were advertising low sugar content, there was yet to be a premium low-sugar option on the market. This discovery, along with his history at Schweppes, led him to launch GuS Soda.
“Why not a better soda?” Hersh said. “That was the concept–grown-up soda in flavors that work well less sweet.”
Hersh and Luoh decided their target consumer would be the adult niche, a customer typically willing to sacrifice a bit of sweetness for a healthier option. With that came the brand name Grown-up Soda, or GuS for short.
“It’s ‘grown-up’ with a bit of a wink,” Hersh said regarding the brand name. “It doesn’t have to be.”
Once the idea was solidified, Hersh got to work launching the product at the Javitts Center in New York City in just three months. GuS’s first big break came when the brand was picked up to be sold in Zabar’s, a famous specialty food shop in New York City. Soon after, it was featured in the Food Section of the New York Times, and the product gained momentum.
The soda launched with four original flavors: Extra Dry Ginger Ale, Dry Meyer Lemon, Dry Valencia Orange, and Star Ruby Grapefruit in retro-style glass bottles with re-sealable caps. Ginger ale remains the highest seller to this day, said Hersh. Since the launch, the flavors have expanded from the starting four to nine with the addition of Dry Cranberry Lime, Dry Blackberry, Dry Pomegranate, Dry Root Beer and even a Dry Cola flavor with a similar flavor but less sugar and calories than a classic bottle of Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
“Most people thought we were crazy for making our cola,” Hersh said. “The common wisdom is you can’t beat Coke and Pepsi.”
According to Hersh, he’s not trying to beat Coke and Pepsi, but instead create a new market for lighter, yet equally satisfying sodas. GuS sodas even make a good alternative for alcoholic beverages with some restaurants beginning to offer them as a nonalcoholic option on the wine and spirits menus, said Hersh.
GuS sodas also come ready to go as mixers for alcoholic beverages. On the brand’s website, you can find simple cocktail recipes as easy as just adding vodka and triple sec to the Dry Cranberry Lime soda for a foolproof Cosmopolitan or as the brand calls it a “Gus-mopolitan.”
“A real mixer has juice in it,” Hersh said referring to his sodas. “Cranberry juice cocktail is all sugar.”
According to Hersh, GuS can be found in many local specialty stores, restaurants and coffee bars across the US. But fear not—if you have trouble finding it in stores, it’s always available for order online at Amazon.
Try it – GuS just might be the perfect way to prove to your parents that you’re actually a grown-up now.