Soft Drinks of My Past

This is a companion to my recent “Candy of the Past” blog. The soft drink industry is massive and variations of flavor, color and ingredients come and go like TV shows.

To even track all of the variations of Coke or Pepsi would be a huge project, thankfully, I am headed in a different direction. I found some of the discontinued or difficult to find soft drinks from the not so distant past, but I honestly did not drink any of those. I think it is fun to think about what has changed in my lifetime.

Just like in the candy biz, a lot of brands were bought, merged and sometimes discontinued. A few powerhouse companies control the bulk of the soft drink market. Companies have different marketing campaigns aimed at dieters, women, age groups, caffeine junkies, non-cola preferences and fanciful splashes of flavor. These are designer drinks.

When I was a kid, besides playing with my pet dinosaur, there were more choices between different soft drink brands, but that depended on where you lived, and there were fewer variations of a particular brand. Marketing was not the science it is today. You bought soft drinks in bottles, and there were a few sizes. Bottles were returned for a few cents and reused. If you bought a soda from a machine, you opened the little door and yanked the bottle out, and then used the built-in opener to remove the cap.

We had soft drinks in the home, but only drinking with the occasional meal. We drank water or sometimes got to mix us some kool aid. My generation did not grow up on sugary drinks. In the summer, I drank a lot of water from the garden hose or from the kitchen faucet. It was quite a treat to put a dime, or whatever it was, into the big red machine and pull out a bottle of soft drink.

A citrus drink like 7-Up was a treat, a thirst quencher in the summer. The uncola as it was soon labeled. Colas were fine, but the taste was sharper and more of an aftertaste. Grape or orange was a treat, as was root beer in a cold mug was to die for.

I don’t know when the “cola wars” started, but it was easy to see that Coke and Pepsi were the main competitors. Both brands existed before World War II, although access to sugar was a major challenge. Post-war consumerism, coupled with changes in marketing strategies, emphasize how soft drinks fit into lifestyle and taste changes. The Pepsi Generation was born and the song, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” was synonymous with world peace.

Many years ago, soft drinks were delivered in wooden crates. Cans were not yet popular. Collecting pop bottles was a way to earn some pocket change, now, you sell them on eBay or antique stores. There is not exact date for when sodas switched over from bottles to cans, but it started in the 1960s and by the end of the 1970s, bottled soda was harder to find. The rise of the 2-liter plastic container provided another option, then smaller containers have become prevalent as alternatives to the aluminum can. Glass bottles are back in vogue, but not on a mass scale, more as a niche item.

I am not a big consumer of soft drinks, if I am going to consume chemicals in my drinks, it will be the natural kind, hops, barley or grapes. The composition of soft drinks has undergone change through the centuries. A trip in the way-back machine to WWII, sugar was used in soft drinks until manufacturers had to find substitutes. Artificial sweeteners took over as a way to have the sugary taste but not the calories. Substitutes like cyclamate and saccharin were quite popular until linked to cancer. Saccharin has been removed from the danger list. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has minimal calories so it is quite popular as a sugar substitute. The long-term effects aspartame is unknown, particularly by those who consumer significant daily amounts. One of the other concerns with soft drinks is the added sugar. Common sources are high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, and sucrose. And then, there is the caffeine to turbo-charge your soft drinks. Need an energy boost? Suck down a Mountain Dew, Pepsi One, Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper. Mountain Dew Kickstart is about the same as attaching jumper cable to your chest and revving the engine. The water hose has very few calories and if you detach the weed sprayer, it is relatively free of harmful chemicals. Now, where did I put my lawn darts?

Some of these soft drinks I remember, others I have heard about. Here we go.

Tab – A diet drink from Coca-cola, introduced in the 1960s, but gone now.

Kick – A citrus flavored drink from Royal Crown to compete with Mountain Dew.

Jolt – Introduced in 1997 as a high energy drink meaning, sugar and massive amounts of caffeine.

Hubba Bubba Soda – Gum tasting soda from Wrigley in the 1980s, did not last long.

LifeSaver Soda – It came in different flavors like LifeSavers. Introduced in the 1980s for a brief time.

OK Soda – From Coca-Cola in the 1990s. Don’t remember it, neither do I.

Rondo – The Thirst Crusher, another citrus contender.

Simba – Introduced by Coca-Cola in the 1970s to compete with Mountain Dew.

Mello Yello – Brought back from the dead. A competitor to Mountain Dew, the caffeinated behemoth.

Surge – Another failed attempt to unseat Mountain Dew.

Gone.

There are many soft drinks that have changed owners and are more difficult to find, but are still out there. Grape Nehi, Fresca, Orange Crush, Squirt, Shasta, Dad’s Root Beer, Nesbitt’s, Sun Crest Orange, NuGrape, Grapette, Bubble Up, Kickapoo Joy Juice.


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