When Jared Collen and Brad Lepitre first met as children, it’s unlikely they ever gave any thought to what they would be doing 15 years later.
These days, Collen and Lepitre are still playing together in the basement, though now, as the co-owners of the startup JAB Soda, there is a more serious goal in sight.
“We’ve been best friends for 15 to 16 years,” said Lepitre as Collen explains they met in Grade 5 and have been friends ever since.
“The response has been phenomenal. People are so excited about the fact that it’s local, we do pretty exciting flavours,” said Lepitre.
“I think of people are sick of the corn syrup stuff with artificial flavours. It’s local, it’s fresh, there are no preservatives,” said Collen. “There is no additives, there is no fake colours. It’s fruit and a little bit of cane sugar. When people ask for ingredients, they can actually understand what’s in it.”
Lepitre, with a chef’s degree in hand, and Collen, with a business degree, had been talking about getting in on the food truck craze, maybe selling some fresh fruit sodas along with food.
“He (Collen) phoned me back two days later and said, ‘Forget the food truck, let’s start a soda company,’” said Lepitre. Collen wanted to make use of the raw materials on the family orchard and throughout the area.
“We have access to so much fresh fruit around here, so we figured we might as well make use of it,” said Collen, adding that tons of fruit gets thrown out every year for not making commercial grade.
That fruit, cherries, peaches and apples in season, make the base of their product, but they don’t stop there and use other local products to make their unique flavours, which they admit, change from week to week: cucumber-mint-lime; cherry-ginger-lime; spiced peach and pineapple-peach-vanilla bean, just to name a few of their experiments.
Everything they use is a local and natural as possible: local cucumbers; fresh-squeezed lime and vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract.
“The goal of this was to not get to the point where we wanted to make money more than we wanted to make a better product,” said Lepitre. “We want to keep it as natural as humanly possible. I think that is going to be the struggle for us when we get into bottling, is trying to find a way to keep it all natural in bottles.”
For this year, though, the only place you are going to be able to taste one of their fresh fruit mixtures is at places like the Penticton Farmers’ Market and other events that Collen and Lepitre attend in person.
“It’s nice to go to Peachfest and be one of the only vendors selling peach products,” said Collen. “We got lots of compliments on that.”
The business plan has them buying a small bottling unit next year to begin experiments, then moving to wider distribution in their third year.
The pair say they have learned a lot very quickly, starting with setting up their workspace in the basement of Collen’s grandmother’s house.
“This was an unfinished basement and we built it in seven days in June,” said Collen. “By the time we got all our permits and health inspections passed, we weren’t selling until the end of July, so we have only been doing this a month and a half, sales-wise.”
Not in their business plan, however, was a demand for their product at private events, like bridal showers and anniversaries.
“We’ve had some interest from brides, coming up and asking ‘Can we get a custom soda for our wedding?’” said Lepitre.
There are a few farmers’ markets and other events left, but the season is gradually drawing to a close. Keep an eye out for JAB Soda in coming weeks and for their return next May.