Health Beverage Innovation

Pok Pok Som drinking vinegar offers a soda alternative, but has a few hurdles to overcome

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Pok Pok Som is a soda alternative, but has a few hurdles to overcome

Related tags Vinegar

The rising popularity of drinking vinegar available in a wide variety of bold flavors could give soda a run for some of its money by tapping into consumer interest in sugar reduction. 

Mixing Pok Pok Som, a tangy-sweet drinking vinegar concentrate, with soda water is a great alternative for health-conscious “people who have given up soda, but miss the bubbles and flavor,” ​said Dylan Myers, the operations manager for Naam Som, which makes the drinking vinegar concentrates.

“They find this and just love it because it gets that whole experience back to them and they can control how much [of the vinegar] goes in, if they want a lightly flavored or bolder”​ drink, he added.

The concentrates are not sugar-free, however, acknowledged Myers. “We do add sugar,”​ but it is “quite a bit less sugar than other sodas out there.”

The sugar is necessary to balance the acidity of the fruit, vegetable and aromatic infused vinegar in the soms, Myers explained, adding the vinegar the company uses is neutral tasting sugar cane vinegar, which is easier to source than the more traditional coconut vinegar used in Japanese drinking vinegars. However, he added, one of the firm’s soms uses apple cider vinegar, which is the tarter tasting vinegar found in many drinking vinegar recipes originating in the U.S.

Naam Som hopes to build on consumers’ interest in sugar reduction and the popular use of its soms to make alternative sodas by creating a ready-to-drink version of the concentrates pre-mixed with soda water, Myers said.

“The concentrates are nice, but people love to grab”​ ready-to-drink beverages, so creating som sparkling drinks “seems like a natural extension for us,”​ he said. He noted the firm is just beginning to explore RTDs in 2015, and is unsure of a launch timeline.

A RTD also could help expand the consumer-base for the concentrates by lowering the threshold for new consumers to try drinking vinegars, Myers said. He explained the price point of an RTD at $2 or $2.50 is less risky for first-timers than the $10 to $15 price range for the concentrates, Myers said.

“If they like [the RTD soms] they might go to the concentrate next,”​ he said.

The RTD soms likely will be flavored differently than the concentrates since the platform allows for more creativity “to make it pop,”​ Myers said. Early candidates include turmeric and Satsuma.

That said, the existing concentrates already offer a wide range of flavors, including tamarind, thai basil and pomegranate, as well as more familiar flavors such as ginger, pineapple, apple and honey.

The company also is launching two new flavors in 2015: Chinese Celery and Turmeric.

“The turmeric is beautiful,” ​and considered a superfood by many, Myers said. The firm wanted to launch the flavor because it “is really blowing up”​ thanks in part to the success of TumericALIVE, which is “all over the place,”​ Myers added. (Read more about TumericALIVE’s rapid ascent HERE​.) 

Both new flavors also appeal to the company because they have savory components, which consumers who use the concentrates as marinades, glazes and in stir-fry will appreciate, Myers said. In addition to food applications, all the flavors are well-positioned for use as cocktail mixers, he added.

Pok Pok Som is not a panacea

While Pok Pok Som has many applications, it is not a “panacea for illness,”​ Myers said.

Unlike some other drinking vinegars that claim to help boost immunity, suppress appetite, reduce muscle pain and lower blood pressure and cholesterol, Pok Pok Som does not make any health claims.

“There is just very little research on drinking vinegar, other than for good digestion … [and] we didn’t feel right”​ making health claims, Myers said. “We didn’t want to mislead our consumers.”

Challenges to overcome

Naam Som and other drinking vinegar companies have a lot of work to do to ensure the long-term success of their products and the category as a whole, even though it is trending right now.

Top on the to-do list is helping consumers “just get over the name, [which] is a huge stumbling block,”​ Myers said. He explained that most consumers who are new to the products have the same initial reaction: “Gross. Why would I drink vinegar?”

Sampling is the company’s best defense, and offense, said Myers. “Most people are shocked and amazed”​ when they try it – even if they don’t like vinegar – because it is “not too vinegary.”

He advises when sampling drinking vinegars, “if you smile enough, they will taste it and they are wowed.”

Myers also echoed other drinking vinegar companies’ concerns about where to position the product in retail stores, with which The Vermont Switchel Company is struggling because the products are so versatile. Naam Som encourages retailers to stock the som in the cocktail mixer aisle, but Myers says some stock it in with the juices and others stock it at the meat and fish counter, where it does surprisingly well. (Read more about The Vermont Switchel Company is tackling the issue HERE​.) 

Myers hopes to support the diverse placement of the soms by revamping Pok Pok Som’s website​ this year to highlight ways to use the concentrate by posting cocktail and culinary recipes. He also wants to improve the search feature on the site so consumers can easily find where the products are sold and buy it online, he said.  

Click HERE​ to watch our video of highlights from the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, which features an interview with Pok Pok Som.

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