As a mother of four, Sharelle Klaus, chief executive officer and founder of Dry Soda, Seattle, knows a thing or two about what tastes good when you’re not able to drink alcohol. After being frustrated with the “lack of options,” Klaus began looking into the beverage industry to create a drink that would pair well with dinner and satisfy her palate.
“I was really wishing I had something more sophisticated, all natural, cutting edge and modern,” Klaus says. “I was disappointed that there wasn’t anything like that, so I decided I would create it myself. I got a great understanding of what’s happening in the industry, which was the fact that carbonated soft drinks are the highest per capita beverage, far and away, but there is still little innovation.”
Although Klaus did not go to college for a food science degree — it was political science — she and her husband always loved pairing wines with food, and while pregnant she missed the ability to enjoy a sophisticated beverage with a meal, she says.
To learn more about the industry, Klaus researched on the Web, and learned about beverage formulation and packaging. In August 2005, after hours of beverage education, experimentation, and help from local chefs and designers, Dry Soda, Klaus’ idea for a modern-style soda, came to life. Lavender, Lemongrass, Rhubarb and Kumquat were the first four flavors launched. Despite the complex flavors, not many ingredients are needed to make Dry Soda, Klaus says.
“I started it in my kitchen, so there are only four ingredients in them because that’s all I really had access to,” she says. “You don’t have access to all the funky chemicals. We have water, pure cane sugar, natural extracts and some phosphoric acid.”
Klaus used a hand carbonator and extracts she had received from various flavor houses to create the soda.
“I found flavor houses through personal connections [including] my step-dad who owned a chocolate factory and a colleague of my husband’s, who is a food scientist with a beverage company.”
She also took tips from the wine industry. “For further advice on flavors and food pairings, I worked with a chef to really understand how drinking wine pairs with food,” she says. “It has a lot to do with acidity levels. We varied the acidity levels with each of them and carbonated them in the style of champagne.”
There is sometimes a social awkwardness when you don’t order a drink, Klaus says. “If you love wine, nothing is going to replace wine,” she says. “But if you can’t drink, Dry is definitely an excellent alternative.”
Growing appeal
Dry answered a need in the marketplace for a modern carbonated soda, Klaus says. “Dry” means less sweet, and that is how it was created, she adds.
“There have been some great innovations in many other beverages, water, teas and energy drinks,” she says. “It was time to come up with something more modern for carbonated soft drinks.”
Klaus sold Dry initially to high-end restaurants and major grocery store chains.
“We got asked by major grocery stores to come on board, which we did, and the rest is kind of history,” she says. “We worked our way down South to California and East through the Rocky Mountains and into Texas. And now we’re in a lot more traditional grocery stores and we’re going into more foodservice accounts.”
In addition to the growing national distribution, Dry also opened a storefront in Seattle where customers can taste all the flavors and talk to a bartender about the soda.
“The nice part about that for us is we all work behind the bar, and also my office is right near it so I can hear all the customers coming in,” Klaus says. “It’s a nice way to stay attached to our customers.”
In addition, creating new flavors is important to Klaus. Two new flavors, Vanilla Bean and Juniper Berry, were introduced in late 2008.
“We wanted to create a flavor that was more recognizable to people, but still done in the ‘Dry way,’ meaning less sweet,” she says. “We are all big fans of vanilla bean, and we worked with Chef Jason Wilson, from Crush, a restaurant here in Seattle, and he created this amazing vanilla bean soda. And we thought, ‘This is perfect; this is what we want.’”
Juniper Berry was one of Klaus’ original ideas, she says. Originally from Bend, Ore., Klaus grew up around Juniper trees so the flavor was familiar to her.
“Juniper Berry is very different; it’s almost piney,” she says. “It’s a much more cutting-edge flavor, so that continues to target our early consumer who is looking for cutting-edge.”
All six flavors of Dry are packaged in clear 12-ounce bottles to connote a “clean and pure” look, Klaus says.
Future for Dry
The company continues to focus its efforts on expanding distribution nationally and into more foodservice accounts. In addition, Dry sees its business appealing to three groups of target consumers, and has given each group a name and personality.
“‘Jane and John Dry’ are definitely influencers,” Klaus says. “They are very cutting-edge, like to discover brands and have a little bit higher income. They shop at Whole Foods and do a lot of going out to dinner. “‘Joe and Annie Dry’ are more interested in the natural concept of Dry. They shop at traditional grocery stores, and we introduced Vanilla Bean because it was a more familiar flavor to that consumer.
“We always have our younger consumer, ‘Jessica Dry,’ who is the 18- to 25-year-old group. Jessica has been there from the start and buys Dry at all sorts of places.”
The desire to produce more flavors is on the forefront of Klaus’ mind, she says. She also is looking into a new delivery vehicle for Dry, so it can be available to consumers all around the country and in Canada. Dry broke into the international market as well, and shipped orders to Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom.
“I feel pretty blessed to be in the beverage business,” Klaus says. “It’s a very exciting time and we are really appreciative of all our consumers and customers, and we’re looking forward to our continued growth.”