Andy Ricker, the founder of Pok Pok, a wildly popular and highly acclaimed group of Thai food restaurants, has wanted to launch a line of drinking vinegar-based sodas for a long time. However, the demands of running his restaurants, the required financing to launch the line and finding the right expertise to manage an RTD soda brand meant that project had remained on the back burner.
This week, however, Ricker got his wish with the debut of Pok Pok Som Soda, an extension of the company’s line of drinking vinegar concentrates. The product line comes amid rising demand for premium CSDs and continued growth among consumers for unique flavors and ingredients.
Ricker said that while “the idea’s been incubating for as long as we’ve had the company,” it got a big measure of support this year in the form of Bruce Silverman, a longtime Whole Foods veteran who joined Pok Pok six months ago. Silverman’s career at Whole Foods spanned 22 years and culminated in the role of regional vice president of the retailer’s Pacific Northwest region.
Silverman worked with Ricker and Pok Pok Som Operations Manager Dylan Myers to bring the concept of a drinking vinegar soda to market, beginning with the formulation and flavor lineup for its launch. Pok Pok Som Soda is made with the same one part drinking vinegar to four parts water mixer formula that it recommends for its concentrate line. The soda is sweetened with cane sugar and also includes sea salt and citric acid for each of its four flavor varieties, which include Turmeric, Ginger, Grapefruit and Thai Basil.
Ricker noted that when it came to choosing the flavorings for the soda, the goal was to employ ingredients that “haven’t been used in the soda world much yet” along with “a couple of crowd-pleasers.” The flavor ingredients are all sourced fresh and blended into the beverages, an aspect aligned with the positioning of Pok Pok Som as a taste-first-and-foremost brand that pulls from a flavorful Asian pantry.
“The plays into what we’ve always done,” Ricker said. “If you look at other drinking vinegar products, they tend to push the health aspects of it very heavily. What I’ve always done is pushed the flavor, where it’s delicious. And that’s what the Pok Pok brand is all about: making food and beverage taste really, really good.”
Packaged in long-neck 12 oz. glass bottles, the sodas contain 90-100 calories and 21-23 grams of sugar, depending on variety. The drinks have a suggested retail price of $1.99 for a single bottle and $7.99 for a 4-pack. Distributed by specialty wholesaler DPI, the products are currently sold exclusively at New Seasons, a chain of upscale grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest.
Ricker expects wider distribution of the sodas in the coming months and is aiming for its next production run of the sodas to land on shelves at Whole Foods.