One Humble Sugar-Free Drink Is Taking On The Soda Industry

“Yes, our product is more expensive than Diet Coke, but it's embarrassing to say—Diet Coke's cheaper than water”

Paddy Spence grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts halfway between mansions on Brattle Street and public housing half a mile in the other direction.

“I saw it all and pretty early on realized where I fit in,” says 49-year-old Spence. “My mom was a single mother who cleaned houses and worked office jobs for a living, and while our household was economically challenged, I still was able to attend a local private school on scholarship and saw how my affluent classmates lived, which was very different than my day-to-day existence.”

For Spence’s mother, however, eating healthy was always a family priority—a priority that would one day make its way into Spence’s work as the CEO of the Zevia beverage line.

“My mom scrimped and saved to buy healthy food for me and for my brother,” he says. “What we try to do at Zevia is let people know that eating healthy doesn't have to be an indulgence. Healthy foods don't have to be more expensive. Yes, our product is more expensive than Diet Coke, but it's embarrassing to say, Diet Coke's cheaper than water. The whole idea that being healthy is not elite is an important value for me and for our company.”

Zevia launched in 2007 as a soda-alternative for health conscious consumers who wanted to avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Today, it’s the 12th best selling diet soda in the world. Crazier still, it’s the only brand among the top 20 that is independent (i.e. not owned by Coca-Cola, Pepsico or Dr Pepper Snapple Group). The company’s sales currently top $100 million.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Once we eliminated sugar from our diet, we felt better immediately.[/quote]

A 24-year veteran of the natural and organic food and beverage industry, Spence served as Kashi’s first head of sales and marketing before founding the leading market research firm for the natural products industry, SPINS. He brought 300,000 natural products to market at SPINS, which led him to purchase Zevia in 2010, a line of Stevia-sweetened sodas.

But long before he took over at Zevia, Spence and his wife quit sugar in 2000 and began using Stevia on a daily basis. In preparation, he kept a food journal for a week and was shocked to learn that despite what he thought was a healthy diet of natural and organic foods, he was getting 250 grams of sugar per day—or 1000 calories just from sugar. The American Heart Association recommends 25 grams per day for women and 37 grams per day for men; if you have yogurt and granola for breakfast, you’re already double your daily intake.

“The primary sources were ostensibly ‘better-for-you’ products like protein smoothies, energy bars and juice-based spritzers,” he says. “Once we eliminated sugar from our diet, we felt better immediately […] and while I wasn’t seeking to lose weight, I lost 10 pounds in the first month, just by eliminating those empty calories from my diet.”

So when Spence saw the small Zevia soda line sitting on the shelf at his neighborhood grocery store, he thought that as a consumer who quit sugar it was his duty to ensure this sugar-free option was brought to the masses.

“In my experience as an entrepreneur,” he says, “it’s critical to start by thinking like a shopper. If I can’t get personally excited about a product […] I won’t try and market it to others.”

Spence is an intensely competitive and enthusiastic human being in all areas of his life; an avid athlete, he’s completed over 40 triathlons and just competed in the Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Championships.

“One of the things I learned early on is that you can be successful by focusing on things that you're good at,” he says matter-of-factly.

Through Zevia, Spence is working hard to make sure being healthy and being satisfied is on everybody’s plate—not just the wealthy. By offering products that contain clean, premium ingredients at an accessible price point, Zevia is working to make healthier options accessible to all shoppers.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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