The temperature mellowed last week, but I fear for the summer. Our apartment doesn’t have central air, so I survive by drinking lots of ice-cold drinks. It’s unsurprising that the cold-drink industry’s champ was born in sweltering Atlanta before the invention of air conditioning, even if providing a relief from the heat wasn’t the original goal. Coca-Cola was born in 1886, when pharmacist and morphine addict John Pemberton created Coca-Cola syrup as a non-addictive pick-me-up, featuring stimulating coca leaves and refreshing kola nuts. Georgia business man Asa Chandler acquired the company and switched the formula to denatured coca (enabling it to survive a series of legal hurdles when cocaine was made illegal in the United States, including the magnificently named case of United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, and the Coke juggernaut, propelled by decades of memorable advertising, both print-based and televised, was born. Today, the average American consumes 55 gallons of carbonated soft drinks a year; 44% of that is Coca-Cola products. Soda displaced juice, tea, milk, beer, coffee, juice, and eventually tap water to become America’s beverage of choice. Even as the growth occured, the hundreds of brands of soda that dotted the landscape — Moxie, the foul-tasting brew that was once the most popular soft drink in the world; the wonderful, viciously gingery Blenheim’s from South Carolina; Detroit’s subtler Vernor’s — were marginalized or, like Ted Williams or Crass Root Beer, vanished entirely. A North Carolina pharmacist, Caleb Bradham, created Pepsi-Cola; Bradham’s company went bankrupt during the Depression, and it might have become a vanished brand as obscure as Blenheim’s or Crass, were it not for Charles Guth. A drugstore magnate irritated by Coke’s refusal to offer him volume discounts, Guth bought the bankrupt shell (official histories are mum on how much of his decision was a rational business plan and how much an attempt to spite Coke) and turned it into Coke’s arch-nemesis. 7-Up, a St. Louis invention, and Waco, Texas’s "King of Beverages" Dr. Pepper make up the bulk of non-Coke or -Pepsi purchases.
Consider the size of a forty-gallon drum, then consider that the average person drinks fifteen gallons of soda more than that every year. It’s no surprise that growth in carbonated soft drink sales have been slipping continuously of late. The two soft drink giants have been frantically moving into other markets: juice (Coke owns Minute Maid and Simply Orange, Pepsi owns Tropicana), sports drinks (Coke owns Powerade, while Pepsi outbid Coke for Gatorade), bottled coffee (Pepsi co-markets Starbucks brand bottled drink; Coke makes Planet Java and Georgia, Japan’s top-selling bottled coffee; neither company seems to be involved with Coffee Boss, which features Japan’s most adorable and Big Brother-esque beverage logo). Coke has been trying to conquer the incredibly protean Japanese drink market; Pepsi bought SoBe and is looking to expand into Red Bull territory of ravers and people desperate for a vodka mixer with Mountain Dew Amp.
And then there’s water. Waters thought to have medicinal purposes have been sold for a long time; Perrier and Perrier’s subsidiary Calistoga have been sold in the U.S. since the early years of the century and the 1920s respectively. But Aquafina and Dasani have focus group-tested names and the might of Pepsi and Coke’s bottling and distribution wings behind them, and they’re incredibly easy to make anywhere around the globe. Aquafina is just heavily filtered water — not spring water or glacier water or geyser water, just water — and Dasani is the same with a blend of minerals added back in for taste. In fact, Coke recently ran afoul of the FDA for billing Dasani as purified water; thanks to the added minerals, it doesn’t meet that labelling requirement. How can the average guy on the street who happens to have a family geyser compete with standardized, heavily promoted water that will be available at every 7-11 and gas station in the Union? They’ll appeal to tradition and nostalgia, images of health and athleticism, show the Alps and Rockies and every other mountain range covered with pure white snow; some companies will go further afield to set themselves apart (link via Bizquick). And why not? Selling water is a highly profitable business that a number of extant companies can enter without a lot additional costs, and bottled water doesn’t need to pass the same disclosure rules as tap water. As Mos Def put it it in "New World Water": Used to be free / Now it cost you a fee / ‘cause it’s all about getting that cash money.