It’s hard for me to go anywhere now without thinking about what I could write a blog post on. Take my trip to Waco a few weeks ago. I went for Magnolia Market (Chip and Joanna Gaines spot), and I left with a Dr. Pepper story.
Dr. Pepper is the oldest major soda company. Yup - it beats Coke and Pepsi.
Originally produced in Waco, Texas in 1885, it has a secret formula which apparently only three people know and it is kept in a vault (Texas Monthly article). I’ve talked about copyrights, patents, and trademarks before (here), but the thing is that with a patent you have to write down the ingredients, and the patent will only last so long. So, one way to keep it proprietary is to keep it a secret. Coke does something similar.
By keeping the formula secret, they can help prevent others from copying their soda – they maintain some monopoly power! But, just because they have a unique formula doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete with other soda companies – something I think we all know is obvious.
How do they drive demand? Advertising!
In the 1920s, Columbia University professor Walter Eddy found that people’s energy dropped around 10:30, 2:30, and 4:30 every day. What could you do to combat that drop in energy? Well how about a sugary, caffeinated drink!
Dr. Pepper used this study by Dr. Eddy to start an advertising slogan. “Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2, and 4 o’clock.”
Why eat? J.B. O’Hara – a Dr. Pepper board chairman – argued that soda was “food in a liquid form and that this snack should be part of everyone’s daily diet.” (not his quote, but a quote from the Dr. Pepper Museum's website)
The slogan went onto their bottles with a clock facing 10, 2, and 4 (see picture to the right). While in today’s world drinking three sodas during the workday sounds like a lot, people certainly do this with coffee (with fortunately less sugar).
The advertising slogan stuck around until the 1970s, but you can still find it on Dr. Pepper bottles with real sugar. The coolest part of the story, however, is yet to come…
How Advertising Saved Soda
The crazy part is that this advertising scheme actually saved them and other soda companies from going bankrupt. Why?
Well, during World War II sugar was rationed because it could be used in explosives (who knew?). This created a problem for soda companies as sugar is a main input in soda (this was pre-corn syrup days, which didn’t occur until the 1980s (Slate article on corn syrup)).
Dr. Pepper went to the U.S. Rationing Board with the study from Dr. Eddy about the need for a boost at 10, 2, and 4. Surely soldiers and factory workers need sugar and caffeine to keep them productive!
Dr. Pepper was successful and soda companies were given additional sugar to make their sodas! Phew! Where would we be today if all the soda companies had gone under?
Dr. Pepper Cheesecake
Texas food is different. It's hard to explain why, but it is. Lisa Fain of Homesick Texas does an amazing job of bringing Texas recipes to those of us who are not always lucky to live there. These Dr. Pepper Cheesecake bars are delicious! It is a no-bake cheesecake in a graham cracker crust topped with Dr. Pepper soaked cherries. It's pretty too! Try them out!