The Pop Shoppe: Canada’s Soft Drink Icon Goes Hard


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If you liked it as a kid, you’ll love it as an adult.

That’s the thinking behind the creation of vodka-infused coolers bearing The Pop Shoppe name, Canada’s discount soda brand and retailer from the 1970s that was relaunched 15 years ago and has found success with both the growing craft soda and retro markets.

A duo of “hard soda” flavors is now in the Canadian market—Cream Soda and Lime Ricky—and if early results are any indication, there will be more to come.

Stefan Kergl, vice president for Beverage World, the Hamilton, Ontario-based company that acquired The Pop Shoppe in February 2016, has a good handle on half of the target market, as he’s part of it.

“I was born in 1970. We felt (hard sodas) were the perfect fit for the older generation to indulge in a blast from the past,” he said.

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If you need further proof that craft and retro sodas are on the upswing, look no further than Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which have been heavily promoting their colas in old-school glass bottles.

But Kergl is also well aware of the fact that liquor stores across Canada are increasingly stocking alcohol-fueled versions of popular drinks, including Rock Star and Snapple.

“We know The Pop Shoppe has a large Canadian following and national brand equity. (Introducing hard sodas) was a good move,” he added.

Beverage World has signed a licensing agreement to contract the production of the hard sodas out to Blue Spike Beverages, a Montreal, Quebec-based manufacturer of coolers and cream liqueurs.

As with many consumer trends, hard sodas started to first gain traction in the US, and Nicolas Gagnon-Oosterwaal, president of Blue Spike, figured the time was right to bring them to Canada.

“We wanted to jump on the trend,” he said, noting The Pop Shoppe’s two flavors were the top sellers in Ontario’s RTD (ready-to-drink) market in June.

“It attracts the younger demographic who doesn’t know the brand but likes the retro (feel). They think things from the ’70s are cool. It also attracts the older clientele, who say, ‘I remember this. I used to drink it when I was 12 years old. I used to ride my bike with my dad to pick it up,’” he said.

“The colors are very vibrant, so the packaging and the great name attract the first purchase. If the product inside is good, you’ll have repeat purchases. It was easier for us to (use The Pop Shoppe brand) because the liquid already existed and was proven. It’s been selling for 40 years. We know people like the cream soda flavor. We didn’t need to tweak it. It’s tougher to develop a flavor profile from scratch.”

The Pop Shoppe hard sodas are available in every province except Quebec, which isn’t a surprise to Gagnon-Oosterwaal. The original sodas were much more popular in English-speaking Canada from the beginning, and taste profiles haven’t changed much.

Back then, it also didn’t help sales in Quebec when Eddie Shack, the charismatic defenseman for the much-hated Toronto Maple Leafs, debuted as Pop Shoppe pitchman. However, there are still plans to launch the hard sodas in Quebec next year.

The Pop Shoppe also has six other soft drink flavors—Root Beer, Black Cherry, Orange, Pineapple, Grape and Cola—all of which are produced with the original recipes from the 1970s. (There has been one amendment, however—frutose glucose was replaced a couple of years ago for cane sugar, which was felt to be a more natural sweetener.) A pair of new flavors are scheduled to be unveiled this fall.

Gagnon-Oosterwaal isn’t concerned that kids will confuse the hard sodas with the soft drinks. For starters, they are each sold at different retailers, the packaging is different, and the seven per cent alcohol content is figured prominently on the hard soda cans.

“Plus, the alcoholic version costs four times as much. We’ve been selling it for three or four months and we haven’t had any complaints,” he said.


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