Leonard Freeke spent five years on developing the organic soft drink Oggu.
July/August 2012 Issue | Elleke Bal
Three years ago, on a December evening, Leonard Freeke was nervously walking through a factory in a Dutch town in the south of the country when the first bottle of Oggu rolled off the production line. He spoke with a couple of factory workers about his new organic soft drink. “I’ve been working in this factory for 20 years, but this is the first time I’ve seen fruit here,” one remarked.
For Freeke, that evening was a milestone. For years he had worked on developing Oggu, while everyone told him there was no way to make an organic soft drink using real fruit. Oggu is now sold in more and more supermarkets in the Netherlands, in cola, orange and lemon-lime flavors. The beverage has also made its way onto shelves in Belgium and England, and Oggu’s entrepreneurs are now exploring the American market.
The idea of an organic soft drink may sound corny. But Oggu is hip. And surprising in other ways as well. Anyone who thinks the people behind it are tree-hugging tofu eaters is mistaken. Creator Leonard Freeke is a former registered public accountant and his two business partners also come from a traditional business environment. They all gave up generous salaries and company cars for an adventure in the new world of organic soft drinks.
Freeke’s mission began in 2004, when he joined a soft drink company as chief financial officer. He expected to see lemons, bananas and strawberries but was instead confronted with buckets and bags of chemicals. He was shocked. At that moment, his wife was pregnant and he wondered how those soft drinks affect our bodies and what his child would drink when growing up. He consulted with research institutes and plowed through numerous studies on chemical additives. He discovered, for instance, that a glass of lemon soda contains absolutely nothing natural except the water. He became determined to produce an organic soft drink. After traveling around for five years sampling lemon juice from Sicily, caramel from France and cane sugar from India, he is proud of the result.
The formula for Oggu—the name is derived from the Latin words for “organic” and “taste,” organicus and gusto—is a secret. But Freeke does mention the innovative way the ingredients are naturally conserved, which is so clever that the drink can be bottled in a PET container. All other organic drinks are in either glass bottles or cans because their lack of preservatives requires that they be pasteurized.
And now the really important question: How does it taste? Freeke claims that Oggu has found a new way to preserve the taste of the fruit. Drinks often lose their flavor, which fades when the fruit is concentrated and is then enhanced with artificial additives. Oggu captures those natural flavors and adds them back later in the production process. Freeke says, “When people ask why it tastes so good I tell them it’s logical; after all, it contains real oranges and lemons!”