Don’t call it a comeback just yet.
Dad’s Root Beer, one of America’s most beloved brands, is making its way back onto convenience store shelves across the US this year with a new look and a new company backing it up.
Hedinger Brands, LLC, inked a deal earlier this year with former Dad’s Root Beer owner, The Monarch Beverage Co. of Atlanta, for the Dad’s brand as well as other beverage brands, Sun Crest, Dr. Wells and Bubble Up.
Keith Hedinger created Hedinger Brands, LLC in mid-January along with The Dad’s Root Beer Co., LLC, the marketing sales company for the brands. Hedinger is the president and CEO of both companies.
“It wasn’t an opportunity I was looking for,” Hedinger admits, “but when it was presented to me last September, I was interested and flattered, and thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Hedinger also is the owner of Hedinger Beverage Distribution Co., Inc., a distributing company in southern Indiana covering 17 counties, which was the largest non-bottler distributor of Dad’s. It was because of Hedinger’s 12-year distribution relationship with Monarch that the company approached him along with other potential purchasers in regards to its “For Sale” sign.
“I found it to be an exciting opportunity,” says Hedinger. “The thing about Dad’s Root Beer is that everybody remembers it… So it gave us an opportunity to tell the story that we are bringing it back.”
And that is exactly what the company is doing. Hedinger Brands, based in Jasper, Ind., USA, has three full-time employees—Hedinger; his daughter, Andrea, vice president of sales and marketing and Jim Nootbaar, national sales manager (Nootbaar also was an employee of Monarch). The team is actively pursuing new distributors across the country and has already added 25 new distributors as well as a new bottler, Tri-State Bottling in Evansville, Ind., USA.
“We are actively trying to grow the brand again in the United States and Canada,” says Hedinger, adding that he hopes to double Dad’s distribution, which was at about 1.7 million cases when he purchased it, aiming to reach three million cases this year. “And we are well on the way to do that.”
The brand was recently picked up by Jewel-Osco in Chicago (a key market for Dad’s because The Windy City is where the beverage was developed in 1937), Albertson’s in Texas and Florida, Kmart stores in the Midwest, Pamida Hometown Values and Snyders Drug Stores.
“There’s a real nostalgic appeal and we’ve had a lot of great distributor acceptance,” says Hendinger. “Distributors have
been calling us.”
Updating a Classic
There is much more work to be done before the re-launch of Dad’s can really be classified as a comeback, however. Fortunately, Hedinger has a few years of beverage industry experience behind him—he and his family have been in the soft drink business for nearly 50 years—and he was up for the challenge.
“I grew up in the soft drink business,” says Hedinger, adding that his father and uncle were Pepsi-Cola distributors in the 50s, 60s and 70s. “My first job was a bottle washer.”
Looking back at Dad’s history, in 1986, when The Monarch Beverage Co. acquired the soft drink from I.C. Industries/ Chicago, Dad’s, distributed by the Coca-Cola bottler network, held the second-largest share of the root beer segment behind A&W at 12 million cases sold annually.
With hopes of eventually reaching that volume again—“that would be a neat goal,” says Hedinger—the re-launching initiatives have started small. In between answering phones, visiting potential distributors and reconnecting with the
bottlers and distributors the company inherited, the company has been taking things one step at a time, but steps that are leaving a permanent footprint.
Still being marketed as a “family”—Papa being a half-gallon, Mama a full quart and junior, 7- or 10-ounce bottles—Dad’s and Diet Dad’s 12-ounce cans were brought back to market in the Midwest, 20-ounce PET bottles were introduced as well as 1-liter “Big Daddy” bottles, 2-liter bottles and 12-ounce glass bottles. The glass bottles are only produced in Canada, Washington and California.
Hedinger also redesigned the root beer’s label. “We made it a lot crisper and cleaner,” he says. Taking advantage of the some of the brand’s attributions, the words “caffeine free” were added to all the labels. “We found that it is a good selling point.” At the point of sale, Hedinger notes that the company is using coolers as well as visicoolers and ice barrels. “We are bringing more tools to our distributors that they didn’t have before,” he says.
And for quick, go-to information, a website was launched, dadsrootbeer.com.
Other marketing initiatives include a recent partnership with Racing Professionals, LLC as an IndyCar team sponsor for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500. The team’s car is No. 19 driven by Jon Herb.
In terms of taste, not much has changed except that Diet Dad’s formula now includes a Sucralose (Splenda)/Ace-K combo as its sweetener as opposed to aspartame.
The company also has different flavors, like orange cream, blue cream and red cream sodas, in addition to regular cream soda. “Years ago it was just root beer and cream soda, but these new flavors are appealing to a younger generation,” says Hedinger. “And we are not afraid to look at other flavors, which we are working on now.” Hedinger adds he also is working on an all-natural Dad’s.
The company also is re-launching Sun Crest, which was not sold in the US last year, recently gaining distribution in Family Express stores in northwest and north central Indiana, as well as Bubble Up, rated by the Food Network and ABC’s Rachel Ray as the best lemon-lime beverage, and Dr. Wells in the Midwest. A Diet Dr. Wells also is in the works.
With 2007 marking the 70th anniversary of the nostalgic brand, Hedinger would like to think that the “comeback” is coming at the perfect time. “We are hoping that we have good timing,” he says. “A lot of beer distributors are taking on soft drinks for the first time, and as they go into these non-beer accounts we are hoping that they are looking for additional non-alcohol items for their portfolio and we believe that Dad’s would be a perfect fit.”
THE DAD'S ROOT BEER CO., LLC
PRESIDENT & CEO: Keith Hedinger
HEADQUARTERS: Jasper, Ind., USA
’07 CASE VOLUME: Projected 3 million
EMPLOYEES: 3 (full time)
GOALS: To make Dad’s Root Beer a truly national brand again.
From Beverage World November 15, 2007