Food and beverage accelerator AccelFoods’ latest investment is in Tractor Soda Co., a maker of USDA certified organic, non-GMO, fountain-only drinks.
Tractor Soda founder Travis Potter praised the investment as a partnership that will align the company with AccelFoods’ broad network of industry contacts and provide guidance on corporate staffing.
“Their involvement is mostly strategic,” Potter said. “Like their name says, they are helping us [accelerate] our business. And we’re ready to take it to the next level and be that leader in the craft, organic beverage space with their help.”
Launched in 2015 Tractor produces a range of innovative craft sodas made with trendy ingredients, including its turmeric-infused Orange N’ Cardamom and a cucumber soda blended with spirulina. The Idaho-based company also sells a line of carbonated switchel-type beverages made with apple cider vinegar that it calls “Haymakers.” The drinks are sweetened with organic cane sugar, molasses, stevia, fruit juices or honey and contain no added preservatives.
The beverages are aseptically processed, filled in bag-in-box containers and dispensed via a custom fountain system. The company targets placement of the machines at fast-casual restaurants and convenience stores seeking healthier options for their customers.
Tractor Soda is currently available at several independent restaurant and convenience chains in 36 states. It’s also carried at a handful of Whole Foods locations and in some of the natural retailer’s small format 365 stores. Last year Tractor signed an agreement with foodservice giant Dot Foods, giving Tractor greater reach on a national level.
AccelFoods co-founder Lauren Jupiter told BevNET that the company’s interest in a partnership with Tractor began last summer. Meeting Potter for the first time, she described his excitement for Tractor as “infectious” and noted his longstanding advocacy of organic foods as a key validation point in how the brand is marketed and sold.
However, it’s Tractor’s positioning as a better-for-you fountain soda that she views as offering the greatest upside for the brand, particularly amid an expanding landscape for health-focused restaurant chains.
“Looking at the market, craft soda is certainly outperforming more traditional [options],” Jupiter said. “And we think there’s tremendous opportunity when you look at the QSR and fast-casual landscape. There’s so many new chains popping up with an organic or all-natural focus, and there is no fountain soda option that fits with those values.”
Although several craft soda brands, including Maine Root, Reed’s, Boylan’s and PepsiCo-owned Stubborn Soda market fountain products, Tractor sees itself as differentiated because of the organic formulation of its drinks and “farm to fountain” formulations. Tractor also positions its fountain-only model as more eco-friendly than other brands because it eliminates the “excessive waste of traditional soda packaging.”
However, a growing market for RTD craft sodas means that Tractor will eventually develop a packaged format.
“We have long-term plans, but nothing super close,” Potter said. “We will be venturing into RTD because the trends are pushing really hard us that way. But for us right now our focus is really food service-based.”