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Cheerwine: Raise A Glass And Cheer It On! (No ID Required)

Thursday, 23 Aug 2007 | 8:32 AM ET
Cheerwine
CNBC.com photo composite
Cheerwine

What comes in glass bottles, cans and two liter plastic jugs and dominates the soft drink world in this part of the U.S.? Nope. It's Cheerwine. If you're from anywhere but the Southeastern states, and better yet North and South Carolina, you've likely never heard of, or tasted, Cheerwine. It has been 'the' drink of choice at soda fountains and hot dog stands (try Hap's if you ever in Salisbury), bar-b-ques and ball games for 90 years. And while we're drinking less 'pop' than we ever have as a nation, Cheerwine has never been stronger.

It's the signature brand of the Carolina Beverage Company, a rarity in its own right. An independent, family-owned, beverage maker, bottler and distributor. Name another one. See. In a market filled by Pepsi and Coke, Carolina Beverage is expanding its reach across the U.S., and Cheerwine is the reason. How? 'Little is becoming big, ' according to marketing director Tom Barbitta. As consumers we've started to value true American brands again. Unique tastes and concepts. The ubiquitous cola, or burger, or car are giving way slowly to something special. Something more. Something that means something to us, i.e. Cheerwine.

What's it taste like? Cherry Coke without the Coke? Cherry-something. It's unique and the people in the Southeast have grown up on it. Producing more than a 100 million cans a year, the company has just opened up distribution and bottling in California. And for CEO Cliff Ritchie, a man whose great grandfather's and grandfather's portraits hang on the wall of the conference room, these are the halcyon days for Cheerwine and his company, 'Times have never been better, and we're getting bigger every day.' he says.

And as the American migration moves to the Carolinas, and Carolinians move around, more people hear and taste Cheerwine. Word of mouth, and taste, are still the company's biggest marketing weapons.

And while they do have a 'water' product, and have just launched an 'energy' drink product, and they do distribute other brands, it's that wall of Cheerwine in the warehouse that is the key to the company's future, and the link to it's past.

Little is the new big. And we're better off for it. Three cheers for Cheerwine. You can even mix it with chocolate milk!

'MOA' is on a roll, see you along the road.

Questions? Comments? mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com