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USA TODAY

Opening Day will have a surprisingly different pop to it.

As in soda pop.

The Oakland A's, a team widely known for thumbing its nose at convention, will do it again beginning on Monday's Opening Day. That's when the only soft drink sold at the park to officially be dubbed "sponsor" by the team isn't Pepsi or Coke, but a little-known alternative, Zevia, which has no artificial sweeteners and no calories.

"We've always been open to doing things differently," says Jim Leahey, VP of sales and marketing for the Oakland A's. "It's a positive alternative for fans."

This, after all, is the same team that once paid players to grow facial hair. It's the only Major League Baseball team that wears green. It's also the team in the hit film Moneyball, about its unconventional approach to baseball.

The former official sponsor, Pepsi (and Diet Pepsi), sold in the Oakland Coliseum for years, will continue to be sold in considerable volume at the fountain.

Zevia will be sold in bottles at all concession stands

The $74 billion cola wars are about many things, but one of the newest and most unusual twists is consumers increasingly demanding soft drinks that not only have no calories, but no artificial ingredients. Enter Zevia, which is sweetened with plant-based stevia and monk fruit.

Now, it's showing up on baseball's prized Opening Day. "I never imagined this in my wildest dreams," says Paddy Spence, the scrappy CEO of Zevia, which is developing a cult-like following in the Bay Area.

Zevia's first order of business: Get folks familiar with its wacky name. "Got to wonder how many people at A's games will say, 'What's a Zevia?'" says Tom Pirko, president at BevMark Consulting. "It sounds like a car made behind the Iron Curtain 50 years ago."

Then, there's the taste issue. Stevia, the main sweetener in the seven-year-old brand, is thought by many to have a bitter aftertaste. That, says Spence, is why they recently added monk fruit as a second sweetener to take away some of that bitterness.

Pepsi, whose beverage deal with the A's expired in 2013, isn't flinching. "Team relationships change hands regularly," says Pepsi spokeswoman Andrea Foote. "It is part of the business."

 

March 28, 2014

 

 
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