“Everything starts in the stomach,” is what Tom First, Founder and CEO of Culture POP told me when I spoke with him last week. And it’s true. It really is. Our stomachs hold the clues to countless health problems, from the minor to the potentially fatal. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 60 million to 70 million people in the U.S. have some sort of digestive disease. So, at this point, why listen to your heart when you can listen to your gut?
The digestive system is fascinating. Ok, is it just me thinking that? Look at how cool this is:
Digestion is essential because our bodies need nutrients from food and drink–proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water–to work properly and stay healthy. The digestive system breaks nutrients into parts small enough for bodies to absorb and use for energy, growth, and cell repair.
So, where does Culture POP come in? Well, Culture POP is everything.
Culture POP is a soda you can feel good about! It is crafted with organic juices, organic spices, and live probiotics for a delicious, ‘fun’ctional sip that POPs. The company, founded by Tom First, launched in June 2020, and we just can’t get enough. Culture POP is tasty, slightly spicy, and fruity. It’s also much better for you than traditional soda; it’s Non-GMO, Vegan, Gluten-Free, plant-based, and uses no high-intensity sweeteners.
Delicious flavors? Yup, they’ve got that, too:
PINK GRAPEFRUIT ginger & juniper
GINGER LEMON & turmeric
ORANGE MANGO chili & lime
WILD BERRIES basil & lime
WATERMELON lime & rosemary
As if the flavor variety wasn’t enough, the company itself is local and outstanding. Here are some questions I asked Tom First during our conversation:
How did you come up with the idea for Culture POP?
Tom originally came up with the idea four years ago. His family was in a restaurant, and his kids, experimental eaters who have never ordered off the children's menu, wanted something to drink. The bartender told Tom and his family that they could make an incredible mocktail. And the rest was history.
The bartender brought over drinks that were both creative and complex, different from anything Tom had seen before. “Being from the beverage industry, I was intrigued by them,” Tom told me. One had rosemary and black pepper in it with some sort of juice, “it was just this incredible combination of spices and soda. I sat there and wondered why the carbonated soft drink industry doesn’t make something like this.”
This experience gave Tom the courage to start another beverage company.
How did your experience founding Nantucket Nectars influence the way you operate Culture POP? Did you learn anything from Nantucket Nectars that has informed business now?
In his early 20s, Tom created Nantucket Nectars with another Tom, Tom Scott. Today, the brand is owned by Keurig Dr. Pepper, and the success of “Tom and Tom” has become a piece of modern business lore.
But Tom is modest. He told me that just because he previously built a successful company with an internationally recognized brand doesn’t mean he will be successful again. He keeps that in mind all the time: “I don’t want to feel like I deserve anything or the product deserves anything.” Tom understands this: Each product you make has to stand on its own; you have to build a company all over again.
Tom is taking what he learned at Nantucket Nectars to build what he hopes to be another loveable brand. At Nantucket Nectars, Tom realized that building a great team of people is the key to building a great company. The first ten people that joined the Nantucket Nectar team were incredible people, according to Tom. They attracted other incredible people who set a culture and a standard within the company. With such a high bar set, Tom now knows the importance of company culture when starting a new business.
I noticed that your company launched this past June. Did you face any challenges specific to the COVID-19 pandemic when you started?
“Our expectations have been moderated by the pandemic. It is healthy for a small business not to feel like they have to come out of the gates and do anything too quickly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed Culture POP to interact with customers and consumers who are trying the product. Coming into the Fall, Tom is confident in how welcoming people have been, even amidst a challenging time, to a different and new product.
What is the benefit of putting live probiotics into soda? Why should people want this in terms of their health?
Tom reiterated his belief that gut health is linked to a lot of health issues in the U.S. While Culture POP makes no claims that their probiotics solve anything, Tom believes that eating and drinking gut-healthy foods and having a diet that promotes gut health is beneficial for people and will make them feel good.
How did you decide which flavors of Culture POP you would have? Specifically, which spices you would pair with which fruit juices?
Trial and error. Tom and his team looked at many different mixology-type recipes to get inspiration, but at the end of the day, it came down to trying different combinations of juices and spices and seeing how they tasted.
Culture POP is excited about the spices in their drinks. Many herbs and spices have the potential to be anti-inflammatory, like pepper and turmeric, for example. Tom told me that “the amazing thing about spices is that they are the pieces of the puzzle that add incredible complexity without adding more sugar.”
In your opinion, what is the key to living a healthy lifestyle? How does Culture POP contribute to this ‘way of living’?
Tom is a big believer in having realistic, moderate goals for things that you can truly accomplish, and you aren’t going to quit on. For instance, if you set out to run 80 miles/week, you might do that for four weeks before your lifestyle, and your body tells you to stop. It might not be a reasonable goal to set, and as a result, you might not achieve what you set out to do.
The same applies to food. As we’ve stressed before, at 6AM Health, stringent diet changes are beyond what our bodies can sustain for a long time. An all-or-nothing proposition often causes us to quit and then go back to where we started.
Tom drew a metaphor to where Culture POP fits in. Culture POP “is a heck of a lot better than traditional soft drinks, but it still has a little bit of calories in it.” It has desirable health properties of spices and probiotics. Tom set out to make a brand that was delicious and fun. Rather than having people grab something they might drink for a couple of months before going back to an old drink, Culture POP is meant to be a sustainable, moderate choice.
"Culture POP is a reasonable moderate solution that can become part of your life.”
And we couldn’t agree more! A huge thank you to Tom First for taking the time to talk to me. Have you guys tried Culture POP out of one of our 6AM Health fridges? What do you think?