Packed into a 4-foot space on the floor of San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Payam Fardanesh hoped to make a splash with his Silk Road Soda company. But the Sacramentan faced an ocean of competition, with 1,300 exhibitors fighting for attention and hoping to land business deals at the Winter Fancy Food Show.
The trade show, which ran Jan. 11-13, featured some 80,000 products, be it tumeric teas or chickpea snacks, all vying to become the Next Big Thing in the specialty foods market place.
Fardanesh spent three days passing out his organic soda, going through 1,800 cups, and making time for a little wheeling and dealing. Talks were initiated with World Market, Ralphs and BevMo about potentially carrying his soda line. Fardanesh’s goal: Bottle 250,000 of his sodas by February or March, and expand to more markets around the country.
He essentially wants to bring a taste of Sacramento to folks all around the country.
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He founded the company in 2012 after going through the MBA program at California State University, Sacramento. His sodas already have become a local hit with bartenders, and are carried by such area retailers as Corti Borthers and Nugget Markets.
The light, sweet-and-sour sodas are based on sekanjabin, a signature drink of his native Iran that’s made with a base of sugar, mint and vinegar. And he’s prepared to make a whole lot more of it. Because in the soda game, you have to think big.
“I always projected I’d need a quarter-million bottle run,” said Fardanesh. “That sounds like a lot but not in this industry; (250,000 bottles) can be run in a day. It’s like ‘Laverne & Shirley’ with bottles flying around. You don’t make a lot on a case of soda. You have to get to hundreds of stores to make it a workable business.”
Silk Road is already off to a solid start. The sodas can be found throughout California via four distributors, including the Sacramento-based Blue Dog Beverages (which also make River City Root Beer and other Sacramento-centric sodas).
They’ll also soon be available in Portland, where Silk Road sodas are produced and bottled through the Yoshida Group, which has a pasteurization line that stretches 40 yards and includes keen temperature control.
And now, the challenge is reaching as many store shelves as possible, a giant task for any homegrown company wanting to grab market share from the big boys of the carbonated beverages. Fardanesh is targeting the “yoga moms” and Whole Foods customers of the world, who might crave a soda but want something more natural than the mass-produced stuff that is loaded with high fructose corn syrup.
Silk Road sodas come in four flavors, including pomegranate mint and a new ginger flavor, all made primarily with fresh and organic ingredients.
He’s also using Silk Road to share the virtues of vinegar, a common ingredient in Iran and old-time shrub soda recipes, but not something Americans generally turn to for something drinkable.
“The biggest problem we’re coming up with is (we’re) somewhere in the middle of a soft drink and a functional beverage, like a kombucha or tea,” said Fardanesh. “The competition is also knowledge about vinegar. Growing up in Iran, it’s always at the table, like kimchee.
“We’re educating the market as a whole. You can’t just sell to someone who shops at Whole Foods. You have to sell to the guy who buys Coke, too.”
Local tastemakers including Darrell Corti and Hock Farm bartender Brad Peters have become ardent supports of Silk Road. Patrick Mulvaney also left Silk Road sodas in a goodie bag for diners when his Mulvaney’s B&L staff was invited to cook at New York City’s James Beard House.
Another business boost: Silk Road won a 2014 sofi Award from the Specialty Food Association, which organizes the Fancy Food Show, for “outstanding USDA-certified organic product.”
So now, Fardanesh is preparing to launch the new ginger flavor and an updated packaging for the sodas. He hopes the re-branding effort, which includes a Persian carpet motif as part of the label, will help give the sodas more visual pop on store shelves.
The new ginger flavor and rebranding will be introduced to Sacramento on Feb. 2 during a “Silk Road Persian Night” dinner at Formoli’s Bistro. Fardanesh and chef Aimal Formoli will collaborate on a Persian eggplant stew over rice, with plenty of soda to go around.
“There’s a couple of vinegar drinks out there, but it’s a trend I might have hit six months or a year earlier than the market,” said Farndanesh. “I’ve been getting plenty of attention. I’ve got all the work I need for a couple of months.”
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.