In the case of a little natural-soda company called Zevia, Paddy Spence, its chairman, knew he would be taking on what is perhaps the most entrenched aisle in the grocery store, where Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have dominated for years.
Mr. Spence was no novice, being a veteran of Kashi foods and the founder of Spins, a research and analysis firm that tracks organic and natural businesses.
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soda was named the fastest growing "natural" product by the research firm Nielsen before 2008, when the Food and Drug Administration
approved a stevia extract as a food additive. (The soda was sold as a supplement until then.) Mr. Spence
said sales have increased sevenfold since he
bought the business in 2010.
, like the other private companies in this article, would not disclose sales figures.
One reason for the success of small businesses like his
, Mr. Spence
said, is that sales are no longer tied to grocery stores, which small food companies often have to pay to get marquee shelf space or a corner in the refrigerator case.