Coca-Cola, produced since 1886, is the world’s most popular soft drink. Coke’s distinctive logo, its traditional curvaceous bottle shape, its hundred plus years of print advertising, its colorful delivery trucks, have all made their mark on American popular culture. Antique shops do a brisk business in Coke collectables from the past; gift shops sell newly minted items of all kinds with the company’s logo. Coca-Cola’s advertising has even been credited with standardizing (though not inventing) the present-day image of Santa Claus as a rotund, jolly old elf. The Coca-Cola formula is one of the world’s most closely guarded secrets.
Coke’s 1985 attempt to reformulate the beverage is still studied in business schools as an example of a colossal marketing failure. The public outcry was immediate and vociferous; the company was forced to introduce “Coke Classic” and let the “New Coke” die an ignominious death.
Though Coke’s rival Pepsi-Cola is almost as old, it has long struggled to keep up with Coke. Pepsi has become the market leader in certain other countries, but Coke still leads Pepsi in American market share; Coke had 43% of the 2004 carbonated beverage market to Pepsi’s 32%. The constant struggle between the two companies is referred to as “The Cola Wars” (although both sell non-cola sodas, like Coke’s lemon-lime Sprite, and Pepsi’s citrus Mountain Dew). Cadbury-Schweppes, with about 14% of the soda market, distributes both 7 Up and Dr Pepper, both popular alternatives to cola. Number four Cott, which makes private label sodas for stores like Wal-Mart, weighed in at more than five percent.
Coke and Pepsi compete head to head with constant product innovations: Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke; Vanilla Pepsi and Vanilla Coke; Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi and Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. In a constant effort to differentiate itself from Coke, Pepsi has released such varieties as Pepsi Holiday Spice (a cinnamon and ginger flavored cola) and Pepsi Lime. Pepsi’s 2004 introduction of mid-calorie Pepsi Edge was a failure. In 2006 the company launched Pepsi Jazz, in two configurations: black cherry French vanilla and Strawberries and Cream. Americans can expect further variations from both companies.
The market for specialty sodas falls into two major categories: regional favorites that have never lost their followings, and new sodas that have managed to attract drinkers interested in better quality beverages. North Carolina’s Cheerwine (so named because it resembles a burgundy wine), is a sweet cherry-based soda with heavier than usual carbonation. The once nationally popular Moxie (America’s oldest soda), a potent herbal mixture with a distinct aftertaste, still has a following in the New England States. Manhattan Special is beloved in the New York tri-state area, Verners and Faygo in Detroit, Big Red in Texas, Bubble Up in California, Buffalo Rock in Alabama, Ale-8-One in Kentucky. More than a hundred regional brands manage to hold on and even increase their market in the face of multinational giants like Coke, Pepsi and Cadbury-Schweppes.
Jones Soda Company is a typical example of a new breed bottler that has been successful in the high-end gourmet side of the market. Jones produces a constantly changing line of products: standards like ginger ale, cream soda and root beer; concoctions like green apple, blue bubblegum, and fufu berry.
Root beer, with about three percent of the national beverage market, has its own history and lore. Root beers, which are frothy, stimulating, fermented soft drinks, can be made from a wide variety of barks and herbs. Descended from the “small beers” that were traditionally brewed at home in early America, and the medicinal tonics that generated many drinks (including colas) root beer predates cola; the Hires variety, still a popular brand, was introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. Sarsaparilla and birch beer are related drinks. The A&W Company, now the world’s largest producer, began a chain of roadside root beer stands in the 1920s, the ancestor of hundreds of A&W restaurants today.
Soda is called “pop” in some areas, particularly in the Midwest. On the other hand Coca-Cola is so ingrained in some regions, particularly in the south, that the term “coke” is used generically to refer to all carbonated soft drinks. The term “soda” is preferred in the Northeast and on the Pacific coast.