Fewer industries have a higher barrier to entry than the soft drink business.  Competition for shelf space, finding a distribution network, and developing a strong brand are just a few of the steep challenges that are stacked young beverage companies that want to sell their products.

Cost is another huge issue that confront entrepreneurs in the beverage world.  True, the most prominent ingredient in these drinks is water.  The rest is generally sugar, flavoring, and colors.  The business model is simple, but with thin margins and fierce competition, the temptation is easy to go with high fructose syrup and artificial flavors.

One New England beverage company, however, not only has bucked the trend to go with ingredients out of a chemical lab, but went a step further with the use of fair trade certified ingredients.

Maine Root has its origins in a pizza restaurant in Portland, Maine.  Two brothers, Matthew and Mark Seiler, wanted to offer their customers a drink other than what large beverage companies provide.  Matthew, a root beer fan, was tired of the bland and syrupy sweet choices to which he was limited.  Using the restaurant as a testing ground, he came up with a recipe that morphed into Maine Root.  The frothy, refreshing, and herbal brew was first served at his work.  Eventually, other restaurants in Portland started to offer Maine Root, then it spread throughout Maine, and now it is enjoyed in all 50 states.  Meanwhile, sales of Maine Root at its birthplace, The Flatbread Pizza Co, exceeded those of Coca-Cola last year.

Currently Maine Root offers six flavors.  Sarsaparilla is a hit, bursting with hints of anise, a little clove, and wintergreen, and offers more of a menthol finish that root beers of our grandparents’ generation had enjoyed.  For those more familiar with the root beer we had as kids, a root beer flavor is available as well.  Mandarin orange reminds you of a Creamsicle bar without the medicinal after taste that plagues most orange-flavored soda.  And based on a quick skim of some blogs, the favorite by far was blueberry, sweet and tart and as blue as a Smurf without the pesky artificial colors.  All of the flavors are sweetened with natural cane sugar, and the entire line is certified by Fair Trade USA.

Some nutritionists will tell you that no matter what its form may be, a carb is still a carb, and sugar is still sugar.  Nevertheless, fair trade products are about more than the establishment of fair wages, improved environmental stewardship, and ethical business.  For the pragmatic consumer concerned about our food supply, Maine Root’s quality and taste shines when compared to the competition.  Their flavors are available online if they are not at a store near year.  And in keeping with their social mission, the company is open to donating their product if your event is a fit.  If fair trade means building communities abroad while taking an active role in your own hometown, the Seiler brothers and Maine Root are a model to follow.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.