Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Farewell, Dublin Dr Pepper

The US's oldest Dr Pepper plant has in a sense been closed. This is big news in these parts, Texas being Dr Pepper Country. The Dr Pepper brand is a very complicated one, being mish-mash of all sorts of different licenses. The Dublin plant, although it was a very tiny plant, was particularly significant in that its original license predated the Big Switch among sodas from sugar to high fructose corn syrup (due to high sugar prices), and when that switch came, the owner of the plant refused to make the switch. And thus Dublin, Texas is one of only a handful of plants in the country that has always continued to make Dr Pepper with sugar rather than corn syrup. (It also continued using original 1920s equipment.) The taste is noticeably better: not as sharp and metallic. Because of this, it was in high demand; despite the fact that Dublin is tiny little town, it received over a hundred thousand visitors a year, simply because of the Dublin plant. However, this popularity was precisely its downfall. Dr Pepper Snapple restricted distribution to a small area around Dublin, TX itself, but it soon began to be bootlegged all over the state, and convenience stores began to go to great lengths to stock such a popular item. So last year Dr Pepper Snapple sued the plant for violation of the terms of its agreement, and a settlement effectively ended the era of Dublin Dr Pepper, the best Dr Pepper in the land of Dr Pepper.

It's a huge deal for Dublin, Texas, of course, since the plant was the mainstay of the local economy. It only employed forty people -- although, again, it's a tiny town of less than 4000 -- but it brought in customers from all over. They have a Dr Pepper festival every year, in which the town is officially named 'Dr Pepper, Texas' for one day, and at which a Miss Pretty Peggy Pepper is crowned. Dr Pepper Snapple insists that there will still be a plant, and that they will continue to support the Dr Pepper Festival. Likewise, the famous soda shop next door to the plant, Old Doc's, will continue operating. But the plant will bottle other things, and there will no longer be any such things as Dublin Dr Pepper. Likewise, Dr Pepper Snapple insists that it will continue supplying sugar-based Dr Pepper from other plants. But there are a lot of unhappy Texans over this; Texans have brand loyalty like you wouldn't believe, and while Dr Pepper is itself a homegrown brand, and thus will likely continue to have widespread favor, by shutting down the Dublin plant, Dr Pepper Snapple has angered a lot of people.

Which is interesting, actually, because we aren't talking a huge volume, here; the Dublin plant, besides being the oldest Dr Pepper bottler in the country, was also undeniably the smallest, and did about $7 million worth of business a year. Likewise, Dublin was not even the only sugar-based Dr Pepper plant in Texas -- Dr Pepper Snapple started rolling out its own retro version, also sugar-based, not too long ago, and the plant in Temple, Texas, a far bigger plant, bottles and distributes that (and, indeed, actually bottled Dublin Dr Pepper for bottles and cans that the Dublin plant couldn't). But perhaps that was the problem: Dr Pepper Snapple didn't have a problem with Dublin Dr Pepper when it was a little-known eccentricity and wasn't competing throughout Central Texas with another sugar-based Dr Pepper variety; other bottlers were obviously not going to be happy with that. Dr Pepper Snapple was in a tricky position. But so it goes.

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