"The Grapette Story"
Deep in the soul of every veteran soft drink connoisseur may be a little six-ounce bottle of Grapette soda. Spunky little Grapette from Camden, Arkansas — the bright purple star of the South — flashed across the nation throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s before seemingly vanishing overnight. Three decades later, people all across America can quench their thirst for Grapette and Orangette, and it never could have happened without the help of another famous Arkansas company — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Grapette was one of those hometown soft drinks that made it big. It was also one of those brands gobbled up during the Age of Acquisitions in the 1970s. Once one of the top brands nationally, Grapette essentially faded from the American landscape. Antique signs, bottles, and other collectibles were the only relics from Grapette's heyday as the company concentrated on sales overseas and producing other soft drink flavors domestically. It wasn't until the 21st Century, after the Grapette name was reunited with its authentic formula, that the drinks became available across the United States.
The story of Grapette actually begins with its founder, Benjamin Tyndle Fooks. Leaving the lumber business in 1925, Mr. Fooks purchased a service station in Camden, Arkansas. In 1926 he purchased a small soft drink bottling operation in Camden, and in 1927 he bought a second small plant in Arkadelphia, just 60 miles from Camden. In 1928 a third plant was purchased in nearby Hope, Arkansas, but with the onset of the Depression, it was only used as a warehouse.
During the Depression, business was terrible. The plant and machinery in Arkadelphia was sold, and the warehouse in Hope was closed. Mr. Fooks took to selling "Fooks Flavors" out of his car in Arkansas, Louisiana, and east Texas. In 1932, two salesmen were hired, and sales jumped 7-fold. The flavor business was now solid.
Sales reports showed that grape flavors were the most popular with customers. In 1938, Mr. Fooks began experimenting with the production of the best grape flavor in the world. After a year or two of testing, the special taste that was to make Grapette distinctive was finally achieved. In 1939, Mr. Fooks traveled by rail to Chicago and purchased the copyrighted name of Grapette from the owner of the Sunset Liquor Company. In the spring of 1940, the drink was officially named Grapette and put on the market.
It was an immediate success for several reasons. First, and most important was the unique grape taste of the drink. Also, the bottle used was an innovation. It was very lightweight, six ounces, and clear, which allowed the attractive purple liquid to show through the glass. Grapette was also sold in a 30 bottle case instead of the conventional 24 bottle case.
In 1941, Mr. Francis Brooker was added to the staff as chief chemist. His presence was very important to Grapette. He developed many new flavors, including "Mr." Cola, which was significant to the growth of the corporation. There were no finer products available to bottlers and consumers than those manufactured by the Grapette Company.
After the war in 1946, the Grapette company remained a closely-held family corporation. In 1947, Orangette, another true-fruit flavored drink, was introduced to the market. In 1948, the company presented another "first" with its famous "Animal" syrups. These were animal shaped glass containers which held syrup to be mixed with water to produce an economical non—carbonated drink for the family. The original 6-ounce bottle eventually gave way to the 7, 8, 10, 12, and 16 ounce returnable bottles. In 1965, a line of 5 flavors, including Grapette, was brought out in 6 ounce frozen concentrate.
Grapette expanded rapidly from 1950 to 1970, dominating the grape market, and reaching almost all areas of the U.S. Consumers were encouraged to enjoy a "big little bottle" of Grapette, whether "thirsty or not." Sound merchandising and advertising principles, plus fine quality products, joined to make the Grapette Company one of the most successful in the soft drink industry during this time. Grapette became internationally known in 1942 when Mr. R. Paul May, a wealthy oilman, acquired rights to Grapette outside the U.S. from Mr. Fooks.
Mr. May quickly developed a market for these drinks in Latin America. In 1962, Grapette International was officially established, and in 1972, Mr. May was succeeded by his son-in-law, Mr. Brooks T. Rice. Mr. Rice solidified the business in Latin America, and also expanded the company into Caribbean and Pacific Rim countries. A popular drink abroad, millions of cases of drinks are sold annually. Grapette International has its headquarters in Malvern, Arkansas, only miles from where the story began in Camden.
While Grapette was growing at a rapid pace overseas, domestically it was in decline. The Grapette network had expanded rapidly after World War II to over 300 bottlers in 38 states. When the Fooks family sold Grapette in 1970, this number had declined significantly.
Through a series of acquisitions, the company was named "Flavette" in 1972, and ended up controlled by the Monarch Company, the maker of rival Nu-Grape in 1977. Without proper franchise support, market share tumbled, and Grapette virtually disappeared from the market. By the 90s, Grapette was only being produced in limited areas.
In the meantime, Grapette International continued to successfully sell and market overseas. The company also began selling franchise-quality soft drink flavors derived from the original Grapette Company formulas. These flavors were the logical choice for private label soft drink brands, and introduced Grapette to Wal-Mart.
In the late 80s, Grapette International's chairman, Brooks Rice, met Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. Without wasting words, Walton told him, "I want Grapette in my stores." Rice explained that although he couldn't provide the use of the brand names in the United States, he could offer the flavors that once made the famous brands. Rice also personally pledged that some day, he would fulfill Walton's request to have Grapette and Orangette in his stores.
Soon, Wal-Mart was using some of the authentic Grapette Company flavor profiles in its Sam's Choice line of signature sodas. These flavors fit perfectly within the Sam's Choice brand, offering innovative, quality products at a better value than the leading national brands. But it always felt like something was missing — specifically, the famous Grapette and Orangette brand names.
In early 2000, Grapette International was able to purchase the U.S. rights to the Grapette and Orangette trademarks, finally reuniting the flavors with their brand names. Now the third generation of founder Paul May's family has given Wal-Mart what Sam Walton requested almost twenty years earlier.
In 2005, Sam's Choice Grapette and Sam's Choice Orangette became available exclusively in Wal-Mart stores nationwide. The drinks' quality is reinforced by their nationally-recognized brands at an exceptional value to the consumer. We invite you to enjoy Sam's Choice Grapette and Orangette today — Thirsty or Not!