July 2015 – Volume 13 / Issue 7
NORKA – Bringing back a taste of the past, one sip at a time
by Molly Gase
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It brings back memories of days gone by and binds them tightly to feelings we had forgotten we once felt. Sometimes this is triggered with the slightest of prompting. A smell, a taste, a sound. Each of these senses takes that link between a memory and an emotion and builds on the connection.
The Norka Food and Beverage Company thrives on nostalgia. Founder and president Michael Considine revived this craft soda after seeing the logo on a mural. “I was with my dad down at the Akron RubberDucks restaurant at the game and behind him was this vintage mural with Firestone Country Club up there, the Soap Box Derby, Portage Trail images, but also a Norka Beverage image. He remembered the Norka orange drink from his childhood,” says Considine.
The younger Considine had been in the beverage business for several years and witnessed the growth of craft soda. “It wasn’t something that I was planning to do, but it was a great opportunity in the beverage world, especially given that this is my hometown and [there’s] a lot of pride behind Akron.”
Norka originally started in Akron as an alternative beverage choice. “Prohibition in the ‘20s shut down a lot of the breweries from making beer and other alcoholic products, [which] opened the door for those same facilities to make sparkling beverages, mixers and the whole soda world saw a big increase,” says Considine. This increase in the popularity of pop propelled Norka throughout several decades in the area. However, the soda company faded away in 1962. Considine did his homework and was surprised to find that the trademarks were available for the soda. From that point, he began this journey to bring Norka back to Akron.
The original bottles were phenomenally designed says Considine. However there was one odd thing about them – the labels didn’t call out the flavors. “I think the only way you would know was just by red liquid, orange liquid or amber. They did have a green bottle that was for the ginger ale. We’ve called out flavors.” Now, there’s absolutely no mistaking the four flavors – orange, root beer, cherry-strawberry and ginger ale.
Though Considine didn’t have the original formula for each flavor, he knew what the flavors were. “All we had were the original flavor profiles. What is tough in today’s day and age is really making a healthier version of what they were probably doing in 1924. For us, [that involves using] cane sugar and natural flavors. We’ve engineered a better drink for today.”
Many focus groups sipped on test flavors before it hit the shelves at the beginning of 2015. Since then, Norka has been gaining momentum in both its hometown and beyond. “You have to have a good product to make it. For this [soda] to have legs outside of Akron, we’ve got to have a great product,” says Considine. That commitment to creating a great product is what he says took the longest. “For us, it was big to be caffeine-free, use pure cane sugar, have 100-percent natural flavors go into it, with low-sodium attributes, and gluten-free attributes that customers will pick up and try because you have a healthier soda in front of them. However you also have to have a great tasting product. So [there were] a lot of rounds of focus groups and trying to get the exact flavor and profile right on all four.”
As Norka continues to grow, it solidifies the bond between the past and the present. For many, the memories of days gone by make purchasing a bottle of the new soda a no brainer. “I think you have a group that remembers it, but then you have a whole other generation that we’re introducing it to,” says Considine.