Oklahoma’s Only Family-Owned Soda Company Is Bringing In The State’s Newest Taste
‘O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.’ Psalm 34:8. And though it is not on the packaging, this scripture would most assuredly be God’s marketing slogan for this family’s product. After all, it’s God’s business if you ask OKOLA-HOMA Soda founder John Occhipinti of Edmond. In many ways, this is a David and Goliath story where the one who believes in God and himself takes on the giant with faith and conviction. And for this family of Davids, they are winning.
But before the Biblical David slung that fateful rock, there was a back story of how he came to face off with a giant. The 61-year-old corporate-retired, passion-driven John has one too, and it’s of a life building what he believes in is faith. And that faith builds success is what he believes and lives by.
In an article about a business, one would expect to hear the term profit multiple times; however, it was rarely spoken during the interview. The words faith, giving back, family and Christian were most mentioned. He is a man of faith with a background of 30 years in branding and marketing, a former wine distributing company owner, successful contractor, and concert promoter for the legendary band, the Beach Boys.
However, his main gig has always been creating branding for some of the largest businesses in the world. Companies such as RCA, Uniden, GE, and many others have utilized his talents to take a product from conception through completion into the retail environment. He has branded and sold to every major retailer in North America and many other companies across the globe. However, the soda concept would not begin in an executive boardroom as many others had, but at a family picnic at his home in Edmond in 2017.
Like many great ideas found in jest, this one would be no different. This would be when John observes his and his wife Cynthia’s twin sons, Garrett and Everett, would turn from a comical reference of how much Dr. Pepper they drink into a marketable concept.
“As much Dr. Pepper as you guys drink, we should get into business just to take care of your habit,” he quipped. His branding instincts kicked in at that moment, and he said, “we will do this and call it OKOLO-HOMA Soda.” Still finding the humor in his comment, to his surprise, his sons thought it sounded like a great idea. The conversation then took a bit more serious tone because it sounded like a good idea to them and everyone at the picnic. John’s initial thought was to check if anyone besides the big players such as Coke and Pepsi were doing this in Oklahoma.
So, the very next day, the family took a trip to Pop’s 66 in Arcadia and inquired if they knew of anyone making soda in Oklahoma. With no being the response, research soon began to discover if there was a market for a soda other than the recognized giant brands. Demographics and additional information revealed it would be a viable investment due to the consumption rate of soda in Oklahoma, among other factors.
John began meeting with people who have insight into the soda market regarding markets, retailers, distribution, and packaging. Doors were opening to the reality that the Occhipinti family could become a competitor in the soda market if they could produce the right product. Creating the right product would be a daunting task and a lot of soda drinking. But the family was up for the challenge. They began their first steps in product development by purchasing over 100 bottles of different soda flavors.
They focused on cream soda, root beer, Dr. Pepper-type flavors, and various colas. Then every weekend, the family would do taste tests. Family members from teens to 60 would gather every Sunday, taking notes on what appealed to each person’s palate. It was a lengthy process, John recalled. Eventually, they chose their top five, and the family took their first steps in research and development. The current flavors are Root Beer, Mr. Twister, Cream Soda, and Okie Kola.
Now, they had the flavors they desired to market, but they needed to figure out how to produce them. The family reached out to a lab with instructions to create their flavors using pure cane sugar. Instead of the plethora of chemicals labeled with words most of us have never spoken, sugar. In addition, they did not want a carbon copy of something but something unique to them. They began experimenting with the different tastes of existing sodas on the market and adding other ingredients.
They also tested different carbonation levels to their base formula to achieve flavors that all the family agreed were tasty and unique. They were a year into this endeavor by this time without having bottled one soda. But the Lord kept providing the paths to move forward. The following course was to seek out a company that could create their new recipes. Once they found the right company, receiving their first batch would only take months.
“Nothing bought off the shelves today relates to our flavor… nothing. It’s uniquely ours, like the Colonel’s recipe, it’s uniquely our flavoring,” John said. He explained they could have bought store-shelf flavorings and extracts and mixed them, which would have been much cheaper, but that wasn’t making soda right. And the family had decided from the beginning that if they were to do this, it had to be done right, John explained.
In addition, they did not want to use cans. Had they done so, they could have been in production in 2018 instead of 2021. This created a new issue since there are no bottling lines in Oklahoma. At this point, John was still working, and Cynthia was teaching. And then Covid hit.
The family found themselves with this extra time to begin pushing hard to bring this product to the public. A marketing plan was devised, packaging and merchandising were created, and pricing from suppliers had been made possible, all due to the global downtime resulting from Covid. The Lord turned something negative into something positive situation for the Occhipinti family.
John’s tenacity paid off. He eventually found a brewer in Oklahoma City who just happened to have an old antiquated bottling line system in storage and was willing to help. With a few modifications to fit their bottles, the first batch rolled out last year in April. It was a crude way of creating only 80 cases with five or six people in nine hours. But they were finally making soda. After completing an inventory of 300 cases, they reached out to Made In Oklahoma Foundation to begin the process of bringing their product to the attention of consumers.
Last June, they attended one of their events, set up a booth, and received an enormous response, even gaining support from the Oklahoma State Tourism Department, who agreed to put the product in the tourism centers. And to boot, they sold all 300 cases of their stock and signed their first customer – Peach Tree Farms in Ada. Attention from the Oklahoma Restaurant Association followed. Later that summer, an invitation to their tradeshow would set them up to win the association’s top award for the most unique and innovative product.
After the success of the shows and the interest shown by so many Oklahoma companies, they had the confidence to step into the land of the giants with sling in hand. Although they would initially need to remain small due to the limited capacity of what they could produce, the demand for their sodas would not.
As such, new concepts were in the works to bring everything under one roof. It seemed every challenge was met with a Divine solution to help them. They needed a warehouse to increase production. The perfect one presented by a developer who offered it rent-free at first was offered. This blessing allowed the family to construct a 5000-square-foot production facility.
And the blessings continued with the location of a state-of-the-art bottling line to automate production and the delivery of brewing equipment when supply chain issues plagued the world. Everything is now done onsite, and family members perform every function. Every aspect of the process is handled and signed off by all family members from start to finish. They are now producing 400 cases every three hours, and up to 700 per day, if need be, John said. And projections over the next three years look to push them to the max production based on the growth they are currently experiencing.
“We are truly blessed to be part of the network of grocery stores in Oklahoma and to be part of the Made In Oklahoma Coalition. We are just really blessed to be part of it all,” John said. He added that all the family members involved are business partners, and working and building something with his family is a blessing.
Every decision in the business is made when all are in agreement. The family business includes John, his wife Cynthia, sons Garrett and Everett, and their wives, Andrea and Sierra. All the family members work in the industry, with John and Cynthia working full time and the others working evenings and weekends when they are not working in their chosen professions.
“We are very into charitable causes and giving back to the community. I grew up in Southern California and was a huge Beach Boys fan. Turns out in 1998, I hired them to do a charitable event in Southern California and for the past 23 years, I have been producing Beach Boys shows to help in charitable endeavors. They are part of our family,” John said. The family believes in using their God-given fortunes to help others.
“I had no idea five years ago that I would be retired from the corporate world and making soda. Our business is about faith, family and community. I don’t know why we are selling soda today, but we love it and are passionate about it. And just as we do as a family, OKOLA-HOMA Soda is going to give back to the community. As Christians, as a family, as residents of Oklahoma, we have to give back to the community who supports our business. It’s our obligation to give back,” John said.
“Our family believes it is our duty to help support our communities in every way we can. We have had long-standing support of local charities including The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma “Food For Kids” program. Each year, we organize an annual charity concert to help raise funds for Oklahoma’s hungry children while bringing awareness to this important cause. We will continue to seek opportunities to help our communities in need, not just at certain times of the year, all year,”. OKOLA-HOMA Community Commitment as stated by the owners.
John said that the company is growing each day significantly as more retail outlets learn of their products. And he emphasizes how blessed the family has been in everything from all of the production pieces falling into place to meet the demand to the first customer at a trade show to now several chain stores ordering their sodas.
Positive things keep happening for this family with a desire to quench the sweet cola thirst of consumers. And this growing success means all Oklahomans will soon have the opportunity to taste the challenge that a small family of Davids from Edmond is winning by wielding new stones in this land of Oklahoma where the soda of the old giants has stood unchallenged for far too long. Be on the lookout for these new sodas at your local stores. If they aren’t there yet, chances are they will be soon.
“We surrendered this business to God on day one, and we are so honored and blessed that the consumers of soft drinks in Oklahoma have given us the opportunity to deliver our family’s recipes. It’s just amazing,” John said. During the interview for this story, there were multiple references to the faith this family has in all aspects of this life, and their success thus far certainly seems to show Divine guidance in every step. As John pointed out, “We gave it to God and it is most definitely in his hands,.”
For more information about OKOLA-HOMA SODA, visit their website at https://okolasoda.com/.