Michael Pillion’s mum stopped him from having soft drinks when he was a kid. Now the ban has sparked a multimillion-dollar business.
When Julie Pillion’s was raising her children, the Sydney mum would always think twice before letting them have fizzy drink, knowing the sugar-packed beverage could wreak havoc.
“I stopped serving soft drinks at birthday parties when the kids were very young, just because we realised that they were full of sugar and bad for them and made them go quite crazy,” she told news.com.au with a laugh.
She taught her children well. When son Michael Pillion grew up he too would avoid a regular soft drink fix, despite being fond of them.
“I always had a sweet tooth but obviously I was pretty health conscious so never really dived deep into soft drinks,” the now 40-year-old said, “but I always wanted a cheeky sugar-free alternative so that was my inspiration behind the Famous Soda Co.”
Today the mother and son duo are co-founders of a soft drink company with products they would happily serve at a birthday party — and have landed lucrative deals with Woolies and Coles in the process.
Australian-made Famous Soda Co is sugar free and all natural, the result of 18 months of research and development after they discovered a gap in the market.
“We were working in our branding agency Let’s Think on a healthy lunch concept that was delivered to people’s desks and we realised that we really needed to put a drink with that,” Julie said.
“We weren’t intending to make a drink ourselves, but we started researching the marketplace for a healthy drink that we could put alongside the food concept and we went on the hunt for that right fit drink and we just realised there was nothing really out there.”
Discovering that even so-called healthy bottled drinks like fruit juice were full of sugar while sugar-free soft drinks were chock full of preservatives, Julie dreamed up an alternative that would taste great but be guilt free.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be great to have that old fashioned soda that we all remembered, certainly in my childhood, but came back in a better-for-you way,” she said.
Working with biochemists to formulate the perfect sugar-free soda, the biggest challenge was getting rid of sugar — but not for the reason you might think.
Sugar is a preservative so it gives soft drinks their shelf life as well as their sweetness, meaning they had to find a way to get their naturally-flavoured beverages to last in supermarkets — “no mean feat”, Julie said.
“What we do is we cold pasteurise our sodas,” she said. That’s what gives them their shelf life.”
Famous Soda Co was launched two and a half years ago and was initially stocked in health food stores and cafes.
But word of mouth saw the drink’s popularity spread quicker than expected, and soon Australia’s two big supermarkets were taking notice.
It was soft launched into 100 premium Coles supermarkets and all 780 Coles Express outlets nationally five months ago.
“The data that we are seeing come back to Coles today is that we are the strongest lemonade seller across all channels, so that’s exciting,” Julie said. “Pink lemonade is a real winner-winner.”
Last week another supermarket deal saw Famous Soda Co land on 1000 Woolworths shelves in a national deal worth millions.
“Currently the Woolworths deal is worth in gross sales for us anywhere from $2.5 to four million a year,” Michael said.
With the success of Famous Soda Co in Coles Julie and Michael are optimistic their brand could soon be stocked there nationally too — a deal that could net them a further three million dollars.
Both credit their “phenomenal” success to their relationship, with Julie working on the product development while Michael has been upfront with the marketing and strategy.
“We’re not just mother and son, we’re best friends,” Michael said.
“We also sit in our own pockets, which I think is key to a good mother and son relationship as well as a good business relationship.”