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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The only place in the world you can buy original recipe Dr. Pepper

Spoonful of sugar is just what the doctor ordered

Out in the flatlands of Texas, a good two hours' drive from the nearest city any outsider has ever heard of, lies a town called Dublin. It has no important industry or institution to draw visitors and the main occupation of the 4,000 residents is dairy farming.

All the same, about 65,000 people a year make a pilgrimage to Dublin to tour a small factory in the centre of town that has been bottling Dr Pepper since 1891. The big draw for fans of the carbonated soft drink is that it is the only plant in the world that still produces the original recipe.

When other bottling factories turned to cheaper high-fructose corn syrup in the 1970s to sweeten their Dr Pepper - with a handful opting for processed liquid sugar - this family-owned plant refused to phase out the granulated cane sugar that had been added to the concentrate since the drink was invented back in 1885 (a year before Coca-Cola was born).

By bestowing on the drink a particular kind of authenticity to complement its long heritage, the decision to stick with sugar has turned out to be a winning marketing strategy and helped Dublin Dr Pepper - as the plant's Dr Pepper is known - to cultivate an intensely loyal customer base.

Dr Pepper was first concocted at the Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, by Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist educated in England who felt customers were bored of the fruit flavours at the store's soda fountain.

The Dublin operation came into being six years later, when Texas businessman Sam Prim tasted the new fountain drink while travelling through Waco and decided he wanted to sell it in his bottling plant. The plant is now run by descendants of Bill Kloster, the long-time manager of the factory who inherited it from Mr Prim's daughter in 1991.

The bottling plant buys the concentrate from what is now called Dr Pepper Snapple group, and rates within the top 10 per cent in per capita sales for its distribution area. That area is admittedly small, but that has proved to be another strength - adding an air of exclusivity.

Dublin Dr Pepper can be marketed only within 40 miles according to its original franchise contract because Mr Prim could only go that far in a day to deliver the soda using his horse and buggy. As a result, obtaining the drink is an achievement - something that restaurants and retailers boast about on signs for miles outside the distribution area.

Linda LaMarca, assistant professor of marketing at nearby Tarleton State University, says the exclusivity of Dublin Dr Pepper "increases the mystique" and, therefore, demand for the drink. "It's not an accident," she says. "Dublin Dr Pepper is run by very smart people."

Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston and a self-confessed Dr Pepper devotee herself, adds: "Dr Pepper connotes daring to be different, unconventionality, authenticity . . . Putting sugar in it makes it more so. What is the most authentic way to sweeten anything? Sugar."

Some fans make it a personal quest to get to the factory as often as possible, boosting the plant's total sales to between 500,000 and 700,000 cases a year - with 24 bottles or cans to a case.

Lori Dodd, the plant's in-house historian, notes there are more than a few devotees such as Joseph Graham, an attorney who makes the 1,000-mile, eight-hour, round-trip drive from Brownsville, Texas, twice a year to get 28 cases - at $16 (£11) a case versus about $13 for the corn syrup version. Mr Graham brings his own traditional 10oz glass bottles because nobody makes them any more. "I'm single, don't have to answer to anybody, so I can indulge my idiosyncrasies," says Mr Graham.

The scarcity of the traditional bottles also adds to the exclusivity and authenticity. Customer loyalty is further helped by the pride Texans take in the fact it was invented in the state. Indeed, when Coke managed to edge in on Dublin Dr Pepper's territory, winning a contract several years ago to be the only supplier at nearby Tarleton State University, it provoked protests on campus. Dublin Dr Pepper was soon back in vending machines.

Philip Hargrove, 58, makes up to six trips a year to the Dublin factory - a 240-mile round trip from his home in Flower Mound, Texas - to refill his 16 cases. "In Texas, you drink water, whisky and Dr Pepper," he says.

Bonus: They'll shipanywhere in the U.S.

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