Maine Root, Portland, Maine, has evolved a lot since the day 11 years ago when Founder Matthew Seiler decided to brew his own organic soda.

Seiler was restoring boats on the waterfront in Portland, Maine, in the summer of 2000 when a high school friend opened up Flat Bread Pizza Co., an organic pizza company, just a few wharfs down from where Seiler was working. Seiler was hired by his friend to build the clay oven and stayed on to wait tables. But Seiler realized that the organic restaurant didn’t have the beverages to match, so that’s when he went home and mixed up his own batches of root beer.

“I was making it and distributing it myself,” he says. “I had a Volkswagen Jetta that was diesel and I converted it to run on vegetable oil.”

As Flat Bread Pizza opened more locations, Seiler was making deliveries to the new establishments, but within a year his distribution grew and he couldn’t keep up with it himself anymore and that’s when he turned to natural and organic distributor Associated Buyers in Barrington, N.H.

“They ended up showing it to the regional Whole Foods [Markets] and it got down into New York City and kind of caught the attention of other Whole Foods and the next thing you know we’ve got a national deal,” Seiler says.

Eleven year later and Maine Root now offers six permanent flavor varieties, Root Beer, Ginger Brew, Sarsaparilla, Blueberry, Mandarin Orange and Lemon Lime Fair Trade certified handcrafted sodas. Maine Root also has a seasonal Pumpkin Pie soda. Recently, the company released its lemonade lineup, Lemonade, Ginger Lemongrass and Maple Lemonade, which also are certified Fair Trade.

All of Maine Root’s beverages are sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice.

“We started using organic sugar right off the bat, and then soon after I found out that my sugar supplier could get me a deal with this co-op in Paraguay that not only could I get organic sugar, but it was also Fair Trade certified,” Seiler says.

Although the packages have been labeled that they are Fair Trade certified since 2007, Seiler says the company actually has been using Fair Trade sugar since about 2004. He’s also happy to see more people embracing the concept.

“I applaud it and I’m glad that people are supporting it and recognizing what it means,” he says.

Flavor profiles

When it comes to developing its beverages, Maine Root finds benefits from working on a smaller scale.

“We make small batch stuff so it’s easy to innovate and use different ingredients and try to play with our ingredients and figure out what tastes great and what doesn’t pretty quickly before we scale it out,” Seiler says.

These small batches are what helped Seiler to develop the Maine Root sodas including its popular sellers, Root Beer and Ginger Brew.

Seiler took the same small batch approach when he began developing lemonades, which he has been making in the office for years, he says. The lemonade line offers options that aren’t carbonated for those hot days, Seiler says.

“We use Fair Trade organic sugar as a sweetener and in one flavor we do use maple syrup as a sweetener,” he says. “… They’re sweetened with a great sugar that we use. It gives it a good sweetness. It keeps it light without being syrupy.”

The company also is looking into more flavor varieties as it continues to develop more sodas and lemonades.

“There’s always something new going on here,” Seiler says.

Sustainable growth

Although the flavor offerings are important to Maine Root, the company also has a focus on having a positive affect on the communities where it sources its sugar from.

Seiler says the company is getting the best possible ingredients for its sodas and lemonades, and at the same time the farmers are receiving a fair price while respecting the land and the organically grown guidelines.

“We are just trying to keep doing the right thing, which is sustainable growth,” he says. “That means making smart choices as far as the distribution networks that we chose to work with and people that understand that we are a company that is growing from sales, and we offer a great product with the best ingredients as possible and sometimes that costs a little bit more. I think as people understand Fair Trade and organic ingredients and what they mean in the marketplace, they understand you may have to pay a little bit more for them, but it’s just about continuing sustainable growth.” BI