The Small-Batch Experts at PepsiCo Are Crafting Your Next Artisanal Cola


[shareable, instagram-ready photo via Caleb’s Kola]

PepsiCo, the mega-giant, multi-national food and beverage corporation has just launched Caleb’s Kola.
Maybe ‘launched’ isn’t the right word. As the PepsiCo folks like to say: We’re a passionate group of kola lovers who came together to craft a unique kola from scratch using a few simple ingredients. We love it. We hope you will too.
Sure, just another food startup from a couple of hip food artisans with a rowdy tumbler website and the hashtag #HonorInCraft on its twitter feed. And one that seems to have focus-grouped the hell out of that k in ‘kola.’

Although they’ve sent us an engraved invitation to snarkiness, we’re not going to RSVP just yet.
It’s too easy; the cultural appropriation and pandering is just too brazen. The desperation is too visible in the carefully constructed social media presence. PepsiCo isn’t the only one doing it: Domino’s is baking up artisan pizzas; Tostitos peddles artisan chips; and Sargento shreds cheese into artisan blends. PepsiCo is just the biggest and baddest of the corporate opportunists who are raiding the hipster-artisan oeuvre.

Craft soda is like the low-hanging fruit of the fast-growing, wildly lucrative market for ‘real’ food.
Unlike the organic designation, craft and artisanal have no legal definitions. Even Webster’s says only that it calls for ‘a manually skilled worker.’ PepsiCo is free to slap the label on its new beverage and market the heck out of the notion of a kinder, gentler company.

Corporate lip service is a lot easier and cheaper than actual craft practices.
Authentically artisanal food is based in craft, community, tradition, and innovation. It’s inherently ethical and sustainable, relying on passion and commitment to guarantee longevity. While PepsiCo is not bad, as corporate citizens go, it’s still in the business of selling carbonated sugar water, and never lets social responsibility get in the way of profitability.

Small artisanal businesses all struggle with the sustainable movement’s underpinnings as they grow into large and successful enterprises, while Caleb’s Kola is off to a false start because of the dubious record of its parent company. PepsiCo’s spoken strategy is ‘performance with a purpose,’ but privately the company fights mightily to derail government efforts to tax sugary drinks and label genetically modified ingredients. It runs afoul of the law in its marketing of unhealthy products to young children, and has at best a mixed record for environmental advocacy, drawing frequent criticism for its plastic packaging, water usage, pesticides, and carbon emissions.

PepsiCo is hoping some of the good will towards Caleb’s Kola will rub off on them.
They’ve larded the new brand with fair trade sugar, retro-styled glass bottles, and the sheen of civic virtue. But the millennial consumers they’re aiming for have a talent for spotting inauthenticity. It’s just as likely that the taint of industrialized production and hypocrisy will rub off on Caleb’s Kola. That’s when you’ll really see some snark.


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