The Craft Soda Brand That PepsiCo Intentionally Keeps Under The Radar

PepsiCo is one of the most visible companies in the world, ranking as the largest food and beverage maker in North America, according to Fortune. Its list of properties encompasses 23 unique billion-dollar brands, including Frito-Lay, Gatorade, and Quaker Oats. Between all these properties, PepsiCo spent an estimated $3.5 billion on advertising in 2021, per Statista, making its products impossible to miss, even if you tried. Subtle, is not a word you'd likely associate with PepsiCo, unless you were talking about one particular brand.

Given its penchant for maintaining a high profile, it's surprising to learn that PepsiCo has intentionally downplayed one of its youngest brands — Stubborn Soda — but that's exactly what they've done. After originally launching Stubborn in stores in 2016 (via PR Newswire), PepsiCo made the bold decision to end retail sales of the craft soda brand in 2019, making it almost exclusively available to only restaurants and e-commerce partners. Its Chief Marketing Officer, Scott Finlow, told Food Dive that it's all part of courting a very specific customer base.

Stubborn Soda is designed to appeal to millennials

At the time of this writing, you can still find three flavors of Stubborn Soda available in cans, according to Stubborn Soda's website — those being Classic Root Beer, Agave Vanilla Cream Soda, and Black Cherry Tarragon. They offer five additional flavors exclusively on tap — Pineapple Cream Soda, Lemon Berry Acai, Citrus Hibiscus Orange, Draft Cola, and Zero Sugar Draft Cola. The full fountain selection is only available through PepsiCo's partners in the food service industry, which are predominantly smaller chains, but include some national brands like Jersey Mike's Subs, per Food Dive.

Finlow told Food Dive that Stubborn Soda is popular at restaurants that market a healthier menu and natural ingredients. As a craft soda brand, Stubborn boasts about its lack of artificial ingredients, use of Fair Trade Certified cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, and selection of trendy flavors. It's aimed at appealing to the millennial market, which generally favors healthier, naturally-based options. 

ABC reports that soda sales have steadily declined over the past decade, with one exception — lower calorie options saw increased demand. While PepsiCo is making an effort to dramatically cut unhealthy ingredients from all of its products, Finlow hopes to position Stubborn Soda as an artisanal alternative to the bigger brands. Only time will tell if its keep-a-low-profile approach pays off.