The Original Cola Wars and Taste Test Champion: RC Cola

The Original Cola Wars and Taste Test Champion: RC Cola

The story of Royal Crown Cola (RC) is one of bitter battles, innovative ideas, and missed opportunities. In 1901, the Cole-Hampton-Hatcher Grocery Store was established in Columbus, Georgia. Two years later, Claud A. Hatcher purchased a large volume of Coca-Cola syrup from the local company salesman, Columbus Roberts. Feeling that the company deserved a special reduced price for the syrup since it purchased such large volumes, Hatcher sought to negotiate a discount. But Roberts refused to budge on the cost, and a bitter conflict between the two erupted. Hatcher responded by creating his own soft drink formula.

From those humble beginnings, Royal Crown Cola emerged as a powerhouse in the beverage industry. In 1954, it became the first company to sell soft drinks in a can, and later the first company to sell the first canned soda, the first caffeine-free soda, and the first 16-ounce soda. The company also had huge endorsements by Bob Hope, Rita Haywood, Bing Crosby, Joan Crawford, Shirley Temple, and Lucille Ball.

But it was the company's groundbreaking marketing strategy that truly set them apart. You may remember the taste test advertising campaigns Pepsi did vs Coca-Cola in the 1970s, but they got that idea from Royal Crown Cola, who did the exact same thing in the late 1930s and 1940s. Many people credit Pepsi with being bold and innovative for their taste test campaign, but they were simply continuing an idea already pioneered by RC.

The list of things that went wrong for this company is extensive, unfortunately. Much of it had to do with lobbying by Coca-Cola for the Cola trademark and sugar companies pouring money into studies to prove RC's innovative diet soda was cancerous, which has been found to be untrue but totally destroyed the diet soda industry. Despite their innovations and their marketing success, RC ultimately missed out on the opportunity to dethrone Coke and Pepsi as the most popular colas in America.

It's easy to wonder what could have been if things had gone just a little bit differently for Royal Crown Cola. If they had won the battle for the Cola trademark, or if they had been able to overcome the negative publicity around their diet soda, they could be as large or larger than Coke or Pepsi today. Perhaps we would all be reaching for an RC right now while reading this. But despite their missed opportunities, RC remains an important reminder of the power of innovation and marketing in the beverage industry.

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