By Forrest Burnson
For Reporting Texas
Paying $70 for a six-pack of Dublin Dr Pepper might seem a bit steep, but that’s apparently the price some are willing to pay to get their hands on the original Texas beverage.
In January, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group settled a trademark dispute with the independently operated Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Company that effectively spelled the end of the line for the prized local soft drink produced in the central Texas town of Dublin since 1891.
The news sent enthusiasts and entrepreneurs across the nation scrambling to buy up what’s left from the final production run, which ended on Jan. 12. Memorabilia associated with the plant – cups, signs and posters – are also high in demand in a flourishing secondhand market that has developed online. On eBay, original advertisement signs are fetching as much as $100 and cups are going for as much as $75.
“As the baby boomer generation ages, nostalgia is a really big thing for them,” said Jack McKinney, executive director of the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco.
Famous for being the oldest continuously operated bottler of Dr Pepper, the Dublin plant can no longer bottle anything under the Dr Pepper name, and the plant has since rebranded itself as Dublin Bottling Works.
Taking aim at the plant for marketing their product as “Dublin Dr Pepper,” the Dr Pepper Snapple Group contended that the practice “diluted” their trademark, according to a statement released last August.
In addition to its nostalgic value, Dublin Dr Pepper was also famous for using cane sugar in lieu of high fructose corn syrup. In 2009, the parent company began producing limited runs of the soda sweetened with cane sugar, marketed under the name “Heritage Dr Pepper.”
Before the 1980s, Dr Pepper – and most other soft drinks – were sweetened with cane sugar. As prices for sugar rose, soft drink manufacturers opted to use high fructose corn syrup instead. The Dublin plant refused to make the switch, so Dr Pepper allowed it to continue to make sugar-based Dr Pepper. But the Dublin plant also refused to drop its namesake from its product, causing tension between the two companies that led to the trademark dispute.
McKinney says that the difference in taste between the two sweeteners is what made Dublin Dr Pepper so popular. When sweetened with cane sugar, “the flavors of the Dr Pepper come through more,” said McKinney.
Before production ceased, Dublin Dr Pepper could be purchased for $6 or $7 a six-pack. Immediately after production ceased in mid-January, online auction prices skyrocketed. On eBay, cases of 24 bottles were going for more than $100. Prices have since lost some of their fizz as more sellers have entered the market. As of mid-February, cases were being auctioned off for $50 or $60. For buyers who aren’t as auction-savvy, a six-pack can be found on Amazon for $70.
The second-hand market for Dublin Dr Pepper is nothing new. Under the old agreement with Dr Pepper/Snapple, the Dublin bottling plant could only directly sell their product within a 44-mile radius of the town. But that didn’t stop enterprising middlemen from acquiring dozens of cases at a time to resell them elsewhere in the state and nation, another practice that factored into the legal dispute.
For central Texas residents, going online to get their hands on the drink might not be necessary – yet.
Though most major grocery stores and gas stations are completely out, some smaller stores in the area still have Dublin Dr Pepper in stock, but the supply is dwindling. At Bubba’s Country Store in the outskirts of Austin, Dublin Dr Pepper was available until mid-February.
“We’re not going to jack up prices on it,” JoAnne Burton, who works at Bubba’s, had said before the store ran out.
Likewise, the Hunt General Store in the tiny hill country town of Hunt, Texas, hasn’t felt the need to raise prices: An ice cold bottle will only set you back $1.60.
But it’s only a matter of time before buying the drink in the general stores of small towns will no longer be an option – and perhaps online sellers will then see a return on their investment. Though the shelf life for the drink is under a year, there is a sizable community of collectors who keep their vintage sodas unopened.
“Paying several hundred dollars for a six-pack is probably pretty foolish,” said McKinney. “But over the long haul,” he continued, this staple of Texas soda history “will go up in value.”