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Start Your Business Success Stories

Big Sugar is the New Big Tobacco, and I'm Facing the Industry Head-On

Kevin Sherman of True Drinks and AquaBall Credit: Kevin Sherman

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart – especially not those in the beverage industry. Current statistics place success in the non-alcoholic beverage industry at approximately three percent. Success is quantified by what is called "proof of concept," which translates to approximately $10 million in annual revenue. Why in the world would anyone want to enter the beverage world?

My initial interest in (and concern about) the beverage industry began while working as an educator on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. It didn't take long to witness the impact of excessive sugar on children on Native American Reservations. The prevalence of childhood obesity and diabetes on the reservation is titanic. And as I continued my teaching career in the Watts District of South Central Los Angeles, I witnessed the same problems.

The consumption of sugary beverages is overwhelming, but the dearth of healthier beverage options for children are drowned out by big beverage companies with savvy advertising tactics.

AquaBall Naturally Flavored Water, a zero-sugar beverage for children, offers a clear alternative available to today's children. Unfortunately, the many larger brands subjugate children's health to profits. They may placate consumers with promises of "one hundred percent juice" or "no added preservatives," but the fact of the matter remains: these beverages are full of sugar.

AquaBall conducted a test in rural Colorado at approximately 40 locations of a major sandwich franchise. The test was to deduce if a zero sugar beverage offering would be preferred over sugary, less healthy options. It lasted seven weeks, and AquaBall sold over 20 percent more units.

It seems logical that this particular franchise should embrace a zero sugar offering, since they tout their reduced calorie meals for children. This should have been an open and shut case in AquaBall's favor, but it wasn't.

The company's executives never returned AquaBall's emails or phone calls. Why would the executives ignore such clear results? In my opinion, it is because to acknowledge the results and bring AquaBall onto their menus, they would disrupt the relationship with their soda vendor.

"Big Sugar" is the new Big Tobacco, and to challenge it is to sit outside of the sandbox while the others play nicely inside and appease consumers with sayings like "no added sugar," "no high fructose corn syrup," "less sugar," "organic sugar," etc.

I share this story to illustrate how small solution-minded entrepreneurial ventures can be shut out from business opportunities. Their ability to thwart small, progressive companies that challenge their hegemony raises concerns of their lobbying power and the effectiveness of anti-trust laws.

An equally important issue, however, is the lack of concern from these big companies to do more, to be better, to think outside of the box and do the right thing when it comes to children's health. That is the very reason we need small companies with heart to lead the way, because many big companies have simply lost their way and lack passion. They are pursuing the bottom line at any cost, not a mission.

I often wonder if these companies allow their employees to truly make a difference in the lives of others. True leadership must be principle-driven. If leaders are not interested in serving others, they simply are serving themselves. It's time to disrupt that model.

About the author: Kevin Sherman is the president of True Drinks and founder of AquaBall. During his teaching career, he came face to face with childhood obesity time and time again. These experiences influenced Sherman to create a healthy beverage alternative for kids. Aside from his focus on making a difference in the children's health landscape, Sherman also cares for four children of his own, three triplet girls, and one boy. When he's not off fighting for a healthy beverage option for kids, you can find him spending quality time with his wife and little ones.