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Lancaster soda startup Pop’d thrives in San Juan

Two midstate entrepreneurs began their soda pop company in a small storefront in Lancaster. Today, the Lancaster-born company has relocated to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to take part in a local food movement happening there.

In late 2018, founders Mark Weider and Sophie Roman opened The Pop’d shop on N. Queen in Lancaster. The store sold not only Pop’d’s proprietary sodas, but also popcorn, toaster pastries and ice pops.

Finding a niche in B2B sales, Weider and Roman decided to leave behind their brick and mortar store and form partnerships with area businesses to sell their sodas through them. Now, focused primarily on its sodas, the company prides itself on offering a bubbly tonic without the added sugars and calories of its competitors.

Pop’d co-founders Mark Weider and Sophie Roman. PHOTO PROVIDED

Pop’d’s drinks range from the popular seasonal Apple Cider Soda to the Lancaster inspired Lanc Drank made with red roses, lemon, lime and orange.

The Grazery in Carlisle, Sweet 717 in Harrisburg and the Lancaster-based Prince St. Cafe, all carry Pop’d sodas.

From there, it only made sense for the duo to take their venture to San Juan, where they could form a close relationship with Puerto Rican farmers and create new flavors of sodas with the fruit found there.

The move was also an opportunity for Roman, a daughter of Puerto Rican parents, to reconnect with her family’s origins.

“Certainly for me it’s been the best decision personally,” she said. “From a business standpoint, coming from agrarian Lancaster, I grew up with that culture of the importance of local food. Here on the island there is a burning hot passion for it. In Puerto Rico, with one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Latin America, there is a connection to the rest of the world.”

Roman, a staunch defender of the arts, founded The Townie, a Lancaster publication advocating for emerging and local artists. She also has a culinary arts background, which has helped develop Pop’d’s soda flavors.

Ginger Ale is just one of many soda’s available on Pop’d’s website. PHOTO PROVIDED

Weider, a former energy attorney, left his career in public utility law to open Popped Culture, a popcorn market stand in the Broad St. Market in Harrisburg in 2017.

The two entrepreneurs met during a social enterprise pitch contest, and later decided to create Pop’d.

“I realized I could expand my product and relocate the business and in doing so we went from offering popcorn to popsicles and sandwiches, and Sophie said there is nothing better to go with the snacks than drinks and she created the drink flavors,” Weider said.

Moving Pop’d and its operation to Puerto Rico was a headache, but one that proved worth it because of the opportunities available to such a business in San Juan, according to Roman.

Still reeling from Hurricane Maria, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Puerto Ricans are focused on making sure the island relies less on foreign imports and more on the food available on the island itself, Roman said.

As a result of this renewed focus on farmers and Puerto Rican agriculture, small, food centric companies like Pop’d have been welcomed. Shortly after moving to the island, Roman and Weider were approved for a $40,000 equity-free grant through Parallel18, a San Juan-based program meant to help businesses scale their productions.

“As soon as we moved down here, the floodgates of opportunity opened,” said Roman. “Getting introduced to people in the beverage and food space, we were able to undergo another expansion and take on a cold packer.”

Pop’d fills each of its cans by hand. PHOTO PROVIDED

Pop’d currently operates in a makers co-working space for food and beverage businesses known as Licorería Miramar, which Weider said has allowed him and Roman to share and learn about best practices from a variety of food and beverage businesses.

For the two start-up entrepreneurs, one of the largest drives of the move continues to be Pop’d’s relationships with Puerto Rican Farmers, which Roman said will allow her to create new and exciting flavors for the brand with exotic fruits most mainlanders have never tried.

Pop’d currently has 15 B2B clients, mostly in Central Pennsylvania. However, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a boon for the company’s online sales, which allowed the company to build its selling power even while its partner’s physical stores were closed.

Weider said that he is currently taking master programs on online sales as the company learns to take advantage of its direct to consumer growth, which has allowed Pop’d to get in the hands of soda lovers from New Hampshire to Oregon.

Ioannis Pashakis
Ioannis Pashakis is the Central Penn Business Journal's assistant editor. Email him at [email protected].

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