Most consumers now drink soda out of bottles or cans. But the vending machine staple got its start as a mixable medical remedy. By buying SodaStream, PepsiCo will return partially to the mixable syrup model on which its sugary business empire is built.
Soda was introduced to the mass market in the late 1700s by Johann Jacob Schweppe, a German scientist who developed a process for carbonating water.
“There was a belief that volcanic mineral carbonated water was healthy,” said Darcy O’Neil, author of “Fix the Pumps,” a book that details the history of the soda fountain. “Then people realized they could add lemon and some sugar to it, and that was the first soda.”
For 100 years or so, soda was primarily thought of as medicine. Pharmacists had syrup recipes of different herbs and spices that were mixed with carbonated water to treat all manner of ills. By the 1890s, soda fountains were reaching peak popularity.
But in the 1950s, the vending machine started to take over.
“They could saturate the environment with those,” Mr. O’Neil said, and mix-your-own sodas started to decline in popularity.
Syrup is still available to restaurants and cafeterias with soda fountains, but most people today get their soda from cans or bottles. And while SodaStream has made D.I.Y. sodas a little more popular with modern consumers, the big beverage companies have had limited success with the direct-to-consumer syrup approach this century.
Coca-Cola tried to work its way into consumers’ kitchens four years ago, when it bought a large stake in Keurig Green Mountain, which makes countertop drinks dispensers. It ended that effort two years later because of poor sales.
Now though, people may not just be looking for healthier alternatives, but also more variety and control.
The soda bottle is in no danger of disappearing, Mr. O’Neil said. But PepsiCo is gambling that the market is ready for some new, or old, alternatives.