Jim Otteson loved his diet colas—often to the tune of a dozen or more cans a day. After all, they were the fuel that kept him at the top of his game as the patent infringement lawyer worked long hours preparing for a trial. He wasn’t unusual. Americans spend approximately $65 billion a year on soda—as compared to around $11 billion on coffee. That’s a lot of sugar and chemically synthesized artificial sweeteners.
Jim had come across some studies on the harmful chemicals that, among other side effects, increased the risk for Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Also, scientists at his alma mater, Yale, found that diet soda, contrary to the hype, causes weight gain. Jim had noticed his weight creeping up, but never thought to blame his diet soda addiction.
So what’s a guy to do? Regular soda is packed with sugar and calories and diet soda is pumping all kinds of dangerous chemicals into his body. He searched around for an alternative—a great-tasting soda without sugar and without aspartame. How hard could that be? Very! He found sodas that were sweetened with stevia and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Stevia leaves a terrible aftertaste, but more importantly, it brings its own health risks to susceptible individuals. Sugar alcohols are hard on the stomach.
Jim was convinced that there could be a soda that is delicious, healthy, clean and naturally sweetened. He traded in his three-piece suit for a lab coat and a high-rise office for his kitchen. There, he used a SodaStream to carbonate water and then added in different natural flavors. He couldn’t get the right mix, until he brought in Samson Hsia as a consultant. Samson was a retired and well-respected food scientist who had worked in both the food and beverage industries for 40 years. The two worked in Samson’s kitchen will all of its professional paraphernalia, creating, tasting, reformulating over and over until they found the “secret sauce” (secret sweetener, in this case), monk fruit juice, the new, healthy substitute for sugar. New to us, perhaps, but not to many areas of Asia. Buddhist monks have grown monk fruit in Southern China and Thailand since the 13th century. It’s been used as a low-calorie ingredient for food and beverages for all those hundreds of years. Interestingly, the unique low-calorie sweetness comes from antioxidants that occur naturally in monk fruit.
Jim and Samson figured out that the monk fruit juice and a small amount of honey provided the right amount of sweetness to the soda. They also found that, by pasteurizing the soda, they could eliminate the use of preservatives but still maintain the quality and shelf life.
Mission accomplished! They introduced the first soda ever that is both delicious and healthy: no calories for people who want to lose weight; no carbohydrates for people on keto diets; no sugar to affect blood sugar levels; no chemical additives; no preservatives; no artificial colors. It is also the first soda sweetened with monk fruit.
Jim named his company, “Luma,” for its simplicity and its connotation of light. Luma Soda is produced in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, and there are at this time four refreshing flavors: cola, cherry cola, blood orange and lemon lime.
Now more than ever, Americans want natural drinks that have the sweetness of sugar but none of the negative side effects. Not only has obesity reached epidemic proportions, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 100 million American adults have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Sugar is the main culprit for all of these conditions, and much of that sugar comes from the sodas produced by “Big Soda.” (You know who they are. There are only two of them!)