A Splash of Orange
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Media Contact: Kristin Knight | Communications and Marketing Manager | 405-744-1130 | email@example.com
At a family barbecue in 2017, twins Garrett and Everett Occhipinti were drinking a good amount of Dr Pepper.
Their father, John, commented, “Gosh, for as much Dr Pepper as you guys drink, we should probably get in the business of making soda just to save us some money.
“And we can name it Okola-homa Soda — Oklahoma and Cola — a takeoff,” he added as a joke.
Three years passed, and the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which brought the entire Occhipinti family home to isolate.
“Making soda was put on the back burner, then the middle burner,” John Occhipinti said. “Since everyone was home, we just thought, ‘Let’s get Okola-homa Soda going.’”
Occhipinti began his research to see how to transform the idea into a reality. He investigated the market and product ideas, he said.
“Oklahoma ranks fourth per capita in the nation for daily consumption of soft drinks,” Occhipinti said. “No one was doing what we were wanting to do. There’s a market for it.”
He learned approximately 46% of Oklahoma consumers look for a Made in Oklahoma-branded product when they shop. Of those, 85% are likely to buy such a product if they find it, Occhipinti said.
“That catapulted us into a really good starting point as it relates to our competitive landscape because we’ve got the market,” Occhipinti said. “We’ve got the demographic. Now, who will buy it?”
From there, the Occhipinti family traveled to Pops 66 Soda Ranch near Arcadia, Oklahoma, where they bought more than 100 bottles of various root beer, cream soda, cola and Dr Pepper-style beverages.
“Over a year, we brought the whole family together and did taste tests,” he said. “We took notes. We really took this seriously.”
The Occhipintis narrowed down their top five favorite sodas in each category. From that point, they did blind tastings.
“Once we had our flavors down, we hired a beverage lab,” Occhipinti said. “We gave them our notes — ‘needs more carbonation, a little less caramel, a little more cream, a little too sweet,’ for example.”
The lab took the samples the family chose and developed flavor profiles based on their notes.
“The lab would send us three or four sample bottles for us to taste, and we would tell them ‘It needs a little more this and less of that,’” Occhipinti said. “We went back and forth with the lab two or three times before we dialed in the final recipe.”
The flavoring the family developed is what sets their soda apart, he said.
“Once we dialed the recipe in, it was finished,” Occhipinti said. “It is uniquely ours — we own it. No one can buy our flavor.”
The next challenge was finding someone to bottle the soda.
“Many breweries have done away with bottles,” Occhipinti said. “They’re all in cans.”
Occhipinti found a small brewery in downtown Oklahoma City with an old, antiquated bottling line that had been “sitting in mothballs,” he said.
“I reached out to the brewer and told him we were a family business and what we were doing,” he said.
The brewer agreed to work with them and made the first 100 cases of the Okola-homa sodas. With this inventory, the Occhipinti family attended the Made in Oklahoma Foundation Show, which supports local Oklahoma businesses making products within the state.
“From the time the organizers opened to the time they shut the doors, I didn’t stop talking,” he said. “Everyone commented ‘We’ve been waiting for this. Unbelievable. I love this. How do I buy it? This is so great. This is Oklahoma.’”
From there, the Okola-homa Soda Co. sold 400 cases in less than 10 days.
“We had people calling to ask how to get our product,” he said. “But, the brewery was only able to make 80 cases a week for us.”
At this point, Occhipinti figured the time was right to expand, so he began searching for space, he said.
“There were no warehouses around, and the ones we did find were out of our price range,” he said. “We live in Edmond, and we wanted to be close to the business.”
After an extensive search, the Occhipinti family found the new home for the Okola-homa Soda Co. only 8 minutes from their house.
“The developer said, ‘You’re the type of business we want in here. We’ll work with you and get you started,’” Occhipinti said.
In October 2021, Okola-homa Soda Co. officially moved into the Edmond facility they use today.
“At that point, we were still doing the packing out of the brewery because we’re working with the supply chain to get the equipment,” he said.
In April 2022, the family behind Okola-homa Soda Co. brewed the first batch of its soda in its new warehouse.
“From that point on, our business went through the roof,” Occhipinti said. “We’ve even teamed with two of Oklahoma’s largest grocery distributors to sell our sodas.”
The “Core Four” sodas — Okie Kola, Mr. Twister, Root Beer and Cream Soda — can be found in every independent grocery chain in Oklahoma.
As the business continued to grow, Occhipinti attended the Oklahoma Restaurant Association Show where he received several Most Innovative awards. At this show, he also met Erin Johnson, Oklahoma State University Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center business marketing client coordinator, who has been a pivotal factor in their business, he said.
“We always go to the Oklahoma Restaurant Association Show to support the Made in Oklahoma Coalition, but we also walk around to see if there’s somebody out there who hasn’t found us and might need our assistance,” Johnson said. “That’s when we met John.”
Occhipinti was excited about trying to produce a soda with the OSU brand on it, Johnson said.
“We’ve helped other clients use the brand,” she said. “So, I did some digging and found out who he needed to talk to and what documents he needed to fill out to get that official stamp of approval from the NCAA.”
After working through the extensive process, Okola-homa Soda Co. finally became an official licensee for OSU with its OSU Orange soda.
“Being an OSU licensee further legitimizes us,” Occhipinti said. “You don’t just get a license from this caliber of university.
“I remember exactly when I found out,” he said. “It was a Friday at about 5:30 p.m. Everybody and their brother within 20 minutes found out about it after I heard the news.”
After the Occhipintis learned of their new license, they blasted the news on social media, he said.
“This was one of those things that was very emotional for all of us,” Occhipinti said. “We knew the magnitude of what having an OSU license meant and what it represented.”
Being able to represent the university with their family’s product is such a humbling opportunity, he said.
“We’ve had so many wonderful surprises in our business during the past year and a half,” Occhipinti said. “This one is at the top and one we do not take for granted.”
Occhipinti told Johnson he eventually would like to see his product on campus. As both his sons are OSU graduates, he is an avid supporter of the university, he said.
“To get on campus, you have to go through University Dining Services,” Johnson said. “We went over there to tell them about this client we have that would work great on campus.”
With the help of Johnson and FAPC, Okola-homa Soda Co. was soon presenting its product to University Dining Services at OSU.
University Dining Services’ staff members evaluate the products interested in going into university stores. They review each product by its type, its competition, and sometimes, student preference by means of taste testing, said Vedda Hsu, director of University Dining Services.
“We thought his product was so unique,” Hsu said. “We were excited to share John’s story with our audience along with his passion for OSU.”
Now, Okola-homa Soda Co. products, including OSU Orange, sell in many groceries stores across Oklahoma and on the OSU campus.
Ever since the family barbecue in 2017, the Occhipinti family has transformed the Okola-homa Soda Co. from a mere vision to a concrete reality.
Occhipinti said his entire family, including the twins who were partial to Dr Pepper, have been instrumental throughout the process.
Story By: Megan Newlon | Cowboy Journal