Orca Beverage was created in the 1980s by owner Mike Bourgeois while he was studying a new and emerging class of beverages called the “New Age Beverage Category” at the Albers School of Business at Seattle University. This new and exciting extension of the larger Carbonated Soft Drink category was made up of products that were alternatives to the mainstream brands that dominated the industry.
Early brands such as Original New York Seltzer, Clearly Canadian, and others gained market share as consumers began to move toward the interesting flavor profiles and the perceived health benefits of these products. Many contained larger percentages of real fruit juices and extracts compared to other sodas on the market.
Mike’s first brand was Orca Sparkling, a water-and-juice blend that contained over 50 percent juice sourced from Northwest juice processors. Because of the high juice content, production was a challenge. Bottlers at that time were accustomed to simple formulations that combined water, artificial flavors, and corn syrup. Orca Beverage’s new product required multiple 55 gallon drums of fruit juice that were full of pulp and other fruit juice solids.
During the first bottling run, the production department at the local Pepsi bottler became a little agitated when the entire line came to an abrupt stop after juice particulates clogged the bottling machinery. Bits of fruit pulp were stuck to everything from filters to filling valves. Subsequent runs were possible only after special filtration was added to minimize the pulp content prior to bottling.
Through the trial and error of the early days, the company learned the craft of artisan soda manufacturing. Word began to spread. Offsite production continued to present challenges and ultimately resulted in the company being excommunicated from three local bottlers due to the complexity of its juice formulations.
Looking for an alternative, the company acquired a Pepsi Cola Bottling line that had been declared a total insurance loss due to flood damage. The tattered line was shipped to Orca Beverage’s warehouse in Redmond, Washington, where the company spent two years rebuilding it from the ground up. Once finished, the local co-packers, who had politely asked us not to return, offered assistance with additional parts and expertise to get the line fine-tuned and running.
Finally, the company was producing bottled drinks independently. Not long after the new line was running, Orca formed “partnerships” with other beverage companies to produce iconic, old-time brands like Dad’s Root Beer and Moxie in glass bottles. From the early alliances, the company has continued to grow. Orca Beverage’s current portfolio contains over 100 retro and specialty, glass-bottled soda products that are produced at its facility in Mukilteo, Washington.
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