Daniela Rojas

As a brand, Poppi uses plenty of bright colors to appeal to young women in college such as people in sororities.

March 13, 2024

The New Drink of Cornell Sororities: Why Poppi Sodas Don’t Always Pop-Off

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Editor’s Note: Disordered eating mentioned

If you’re a social media user, particularly one on a college campus, there is a good chance you’ve seen an ad for Poppi on your feed. Though it sounds as though it could be a childhood toy, Poppi is actually a prebiotic soda drink––one that is marketed as “a modern soda for the next generation.” Who is the next generation, you ask? Poppi is being marketed toward college students and young adults in general, but more specifically, young women. Cornell’s sorority scene, for instance, is no stranger to endorsing and promoting Poppi drinks. The effects of promoting drinks like Poppi may seem harmless on the surface, but it’s important to consider the implications for body image perception among young women and girls.

So what are the health benefits Poppi is claiming to provide its drinkers with? According to the company’s website, this modern take on soda supports gut health and acts as a low-calorie, low-sugar alternative to traditional sodas, made with agave inulin, apple cider vinegar and fruit juice. This all sounds great, but I, along with other experts who weighed in on prebiotic drinks, are not so sure. While Poppi has been said to help lower cholesterol levels and aid in weight loss, The Washington Post emphasizes the unsaid considerations. Professor Geoffrey A. Preidis from Baylor College of Medicine explains that these products should not be seen as easy fixes for these health issues and are not replacements for well-balanced meals.

Poppi isn’t wrong about the importance of gut health and feeding your microbes fiber.. The National Institute of Health explains that fibers act as a main source of energy for microbes, both increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in and improving the overall health of the intestinal environment. However, does Poppi alone achieve fiber intake goals? Again, the prebiotic drink has the potential to fall short in this area. NPR reported that Stanford University Professor Justin Sonnenburg says while any source of fiber is likely better than none at all, prebiotic drinks like Poppi may not meet the needs of microbes further down the large intestine. Inulin, a prebiotic naturally occurring in plants ranging from the agave tequilana to the chicory, is a main ingredient in Poppi. This, Poppi claims, is the reason why the drink is so gut-healthy. Nevertheless, Sonnenburg clarifies that even too much of this prebiotic can cause negative health effects such as intestinal inflammation.

Recently, Poppi has sought after a very specific group of potential consumers: panhellenic sororities. At Cornell, almost every single girl involved in Greek Life can tell you exactly which flavor of Poppi is her favorite, a result of very public sponsorships with and numerous shipments of product to sorority houses on campus. I had never heard of Poppi until I joined a sorority, and suddenly, it was everywhere. 

My sisters are never lacking in opinions on Poppi and its dominant presence in our house. Naturally, I had to try it myself. Though I’ve only ever had the Cola flavor, my opinions on the taste of Poppi are this: though it is just okay, if it is readily accessible and free, I will crack one open. Is it anything special? No, but if it really does achieve all that it claims to, that is impressive, in my opinion. The Cola flavor did resemble Coca Cola, however it almost tasted like a watered-down version of it; still fizzy and somewhat tasting of the traditional flavors found in Coca Cola (vanilla, cinnamon and cherry), but less severe and pronounced. It didn’t pack a punch, let’s just say.

Like I hypothesized before, I have an inkling why Poppi is being specifically marketed toward girls on college campuses, especially ones in sororities. The website itself is, frankly, really aesthetically pleasing. Colored with vibrant pinks, yellows, and blues, Poppi’s website is the epitome of stylish and trendy. There’s even a smiley face at the bottom of the site with a tongue out accompanied by “let’s be friends.” Neon but in a modern, Barbie-styled way. Everything from the font to the graphics scream modern-day college girl, so much so that I even want to buy a package of Poppi after exploring the website. 

Despite the welcoming it-girl vibes, the language surrounding Poppi and its benefits is harmful and problematic. On Poppi’s website, part of its pitch states “No more hiding cans in the bottom of your recycling bin or sipping sparkling water with your burger and fries.” Associating feelings such a shame and guilt to foods and drinks (in this case, soda) is inherently problematic, especially when a product is targeted toward the exact demographic that is arguably most vulnerable to body insecurity and disordered eating. One study from the National Organization of Women reports that at age 13, 53 percent of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies,” and that this percentage grows to 78 percent by age 17. 

Poppi may not be explicitly targeting women with the intention of creating more insecurities, but it is important to note that there are certain effects of labeling foods and drinks as shameful if consumed. While it may not be younger girls consuming Poppi just yet, social media trends such as “Rush Tok” (formal recruitment-related videos on Tik Tok) expose younger teens to the drink. Even though Poppi could have just seen partnering with sororities and young influencers as a good marketing strategy (which it is), it could lead to unintended consequences on how these girls view soda and its consumption.

The heart of Poppi’s brand appears as though it is pure, as co-founders Allison and Stephen Ellsworth, a husband-and-wife duo based in Austin, TX, seem passionate about their product and its health benefits. Still, Poppi is still a money-making corporation, one that got its start on the reality television series Shark Tank. It is crucial that we are not just taking products at face-value, but actually questioning the claims a business makes and protecting ourselves in the process. For now, I know I’ll probably still be feeling Poppi’s very pink presence in my life on campus.

Maia Mehring (she/her) is a first-year student in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected].