Karma and Kuku Gill have been farming in the Okanagan for the last 25 years, but their children weren’t as keen to continue the family business, as is. They wanted to innovate, expand, help their parents build on years of hard work.
Avi, his wife Binny and his younger brother Sumeet decided to use the fruits their parents already cultivated to make something new — fruit soda.
Binny said the reason for the new venture was to help stabilize the family’s income after they saw the financial uncertainties farmers faced.
“Some years are great and others, not so much. But we wanted to do this because then we can grow our own fruit, we turn it into a product which we then can have some control over what the retailer is marking it up for,” she said.
Avi said they started with apple soda, first selling it at the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market. Eight months later, their apple soda can now be found in 400 grocery stores across the province, including Safeway, Buy-Low, Thrifty Foods, Save-On-Foods, Your Independent Grocer, and Nesters Market. Soon, they’ll be releasing cherry and peach sodas as well.
He said it was the support of local residents and local retailers that set him and his family on the right path.
“I don’t think we’d ever give up-selling and going to the farmers’ market. That’s where we really get to interact with our local community members, who have been awesome and encouraged us to stick with it while we were figuring out the formula,” he said.
“Outside of the farmers’ market, we started out with Peter’s Your Independent Grocer. Peter is awesome and he really mentored me. He actually helped me get from the production side of things into retail, pointing out who to talk to and what kinds of conversations I needed to have.”
Besides the fruit soda, Avi, Binny and Sumeet also launched a tasting bar at the family’s McKenzie Road property. But just as they were ready to open, COVID-19 hit, affecting not just the tasting bar’s performance, but the sales in grocery stores as well.
“The thing is, we just have to roll with the punches. It’s been difficult because we’ve had our store closed for the majority of (the pandemic) and even when things started loosening up, we’d rather err on the side of safety so we’ve been cautious with opening,” Avi said.
Karma said the younger generation’s new venture is exciting, but he said local farmers need help from the government, provincial, federal and municipal governments.
“This year has been difficult… we need support from the government. The federal government’s aid only helps the dairy, egg and meat farmers,” he said.
“They need to look at fruit growers too. We have problems too and it’s been difficult for us too.”