April 27, 2022
For dedicated soda drinkers, there’s nothing quite like grabbing an ice-cold can, popping the top, and taking that first fizzy sip. The 39 grams of sugar in the average can of Coke, however, is something of a buzzkill.
Enter Poppi: a better-for-you beverage brand whose founder is on a mission to transform the soda industry (and convert its most loyal customers) with craveable flavors, gut-healthy ingredients, and just five grams of sugar or less per brightly colored can.
Allison Ellsworth initially had no intentions of becoming a soda entrepreneur. A born-and-bred Texan, she had a successful career in oil and gas research, but her travel-packed schedule made it hard to stick to a healthy routine, and she was struggling with persistent health issues like stomach problems and breakouts.
Frustrated with the lack of results despite endless doctor visits, Ellsworth says she “did what you’re not supposed to do — I Googled my symptoms.” One homegrown remedy kept coming up: a daily dose of apple cider vinegar.
Ellsworth was suspicious that what she calls a “grandma remedy” could really make a difference, but she was desperate. After two weeks of drinking apple cider vinegar in water daily, she was “absolutely shocked” by how much better she felt.
There was just one problem. “Have you ever drunk apple cider vinegar before?” she quips. “I loved how it made me feel, but the taste was not sustainable.”
She started experimenting in the kitchen, spending months mixing concoctions that would mask the strong flavor of the vinegar without loading it up with sugar. After testing out the recipe on friends and neighbors, she decided to set up shop at her local farmer’s market in Dallas, where it caught the attention of the buyer from a grocery store chain.
“[My husband and I] had these great careers, I was 3 months pregnant with our first child, we’d just bought a house, and I was like, I’m quitting my job and we’re doing this,” Ellsworth reflects. “We just went all in.” Not long afterwards, Ellsworth appeared on “Shark Tank,” and a deal quickly followed.
You might think that launching a small business in March of 2020 would be a disaster, but the early pandemic timing ended up working in Poppi’s favor.
“At the time, there were a lot of unknowns, and people were scared,” Ellsworth says. “Everyone was focused on their health in some way.”
Aside from the collective focus on health and immunity, Poppi also benefited from having a captive audience for its episode of “Shark Tank,” which aired in April. “How often is everyone in America locked down in their house on a Friday night watching TV?” Ellsworth says.
Poppi may have started out as a solution to a personal problem, but Ellsworth’s mission has since expanded. “We’re going after big soda,” she states. “We want to capture those soda drinkers [who] know the 39 grams of sugar, or the aspartame in the diet [sodas], isn’t good for you.”
To do that, Ellsworth knows she has to get the flavors just right — which is why she still formulates them herself. “I spend hours on each flavor,” she says. “We don’t use a lab or outsource it.” Her goal is to nail the familiar flavors brand-loyal soda drinkers love — like cola and root beer, along with fruity blends like Raspberry Rose and Watermelon — using ingredients she trusts.
That includes apple cider vinegar, of course, but Ellsworth says the choice not to tout Poppi’s benefits too prominently was intentional. “If you push a lot of the health benefits right out of the gate, it can scare people off,” she explains. “We want to be a bit more approachable, versus very niche. If we want to take on big soda, we need to be able to talk to everyday consumers.” That’s not to say Poppi doesn’t take its claims seriously; the brand works with registered dietitians and holistic health experts, and is in the process of conducting its first gut health study.
Ellsworth’s hope is that the average soda drinker will pick up a brightly colored, ice-cold can of Poppi, pop the top, take that first fizzy sip…then turn over the can and discover that in the place of 39 grams of sugar is apple cider vinegar, prebiotic fiber, and only 15 calories. “We really feel like Poppi is the soda for the next generation.”
It’s no surprise that Ellsworth enjoys a Poppi most days as part of her gut health routine. Her personal favorite flavor is Strawberry Lemon, though she hints that she’s got dozens of new varieties in the pipeline.
For extra gut health support, Ellsworth also takes a probiotic every day (as well as a multivitamin). She broke down the magic formula for us: “Prebiotics plus probiotics equals a healthy and happy gut, because the prebiotics are the food for the probiotics.”
While Ellsworth says she doesn’t have celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that requires eliminating gluten, she noticed an improvement in how she felt when she nixed the gluten from her diet. “What you put in your body can make such a difference,” she says.
Exercise is a well-established way to help manage stomach issues and support a healthy lifestyle overall, but that doesn’t have to mean going hard every single day. “I’m all about fitness, but I’m more of a yogi type,” Ellsworth shares. “I’m not in the gym hitting it.” Her gentle but consistent movement routine incorporates light exercise like walking.
For Ellsworth, wellbeing is about finding a healthy balance between doing what works and doing what you love. “The word ‘healthy’ doesn’t have to mean going to one extreme or the other,” she states. “I’ll have a Poppi and a slice of pizza. It’s all about being happy and healthy.” (Pro tip from the founder herself: a Ginger Lime Poppi with a shot of tequila makes a great instant margarita.)
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