Who owns Dr Pepper? A look at the origin and trade secrets of soft drink company dubbed better than Coca-Cola

Author Ann Coulter's latest tweet took a shot at Coke after the company blasted Georgia's new voting law, and said 'Dr. Pepper is better than Coke, anyway'


                            Who owns Dr Pepper? A look at the origin and trade secrets of soft drink company dubbed better than Coca-Cola
Dr Pepper is back in the news after it was called better than Coco-Cola (Getty Images)

A tweet by author and media pundit Ann Coulter has sparked a massive row online about which is a better soft drink. Coulter tweeted after Coca-Cola became the latest company to blast Georgia's new voting law. In an April 1 statement, the company said, "We want to be crystal clear and state unambiguously that we are disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia voting legislation." The statement also added, "additionally, our focus is now on supporting federal legislation that protects voting access and addresses voter suppression across the country."

That led Coulter to tweet, "Dr. Pepper is better than Coke, anyway." Mentions of Dr Pepper have since skyrocketed on social media, with many debating about the better beverage, both politically and taste-wise. Is it really a better drink? We'll leave that to you to decide. In the meantime though, we thought we should investigate the origins and history of the company.



 

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Dr. Pepper branding is seen at ACM Lifting Lives: Decades on April 6, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada (Getty Images)

Who owns Dr Pepper? Who founded it? Those are just some of the many questions we aim to answer today. Here's a look at everything you want to know about the soda Coulter calls better than Coke.

Origin 

Dr Pepper was first formulated by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas, in 1885. It was sold in the drugstore where Alderton worked under the name 'Waco'. Alderton sold the formula to the store owner Wade Morrison, who renamed it 'Dr Pepper', supposedly after his friend Dr Charles Pepper. However, that theory is contested. Others believe it is named after someone called William Alexander Reed Pepper of Christiansburg, who worked as a pharmacy clerk. The Dr Pepper museum currently has over a dozen different theories on how the name came to be.

Morrison took Alderton's formula and began developing it with Robert S Lazenby, a young beverage chemist. In 1891, they formed the Artesian Mfg. & Bottling Company later rebranded as Dr Pepper company. As the popularity of the drink skyrocketed, in 1923, Lazenby and his son-in-law moved the company to Dallas. The drink gained national attention and fame at the 1904 World's Fair Exhibition in St Louis, Missouri. 

The growth of the brand is closely tied to a court case it lost. For a long time, it was a regional delicacy, unable to crack the national market since it lacked the distribution networks of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The two cola brands had exclusive contracts with many independent bottlers, so the bottlers were prevented from manufacturing other colas. Luckily for Dr Pepper, a Federal court ruled in 1963 that it was not a cola product. That allowed many bottlers to make Dr Pepper, without violating their contracts, and soon led to its availability nationally. 

Charles Alderton, the founder of the Dr Pepper recipe (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr Pepper's secret formula

Since the 1930s, there has been a rumor that the drink is made from prune juice, owing to the similarity in taste. It's unclear who started the rumor and when, but it has been around for nearly as long as the company. The company says on its website that "there are 23 flavors and other ingredients (none of which are prunes) that produce the inimitable taste of Dr Pepper”.

So what is the recipe for Dr Pepper? Very few people know the actual answer to that. Like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, the true recipe of Dr Pepper is a closely guarded secret. The full formula is reportedly divided into two parts, each stored in a separate Dallas bank. That secret may have come partially into light in 2009. When shopping at an antique store in Texas, Oklahoma manuscript collector Bill Waters came across an old ledger with formulas and recipes. He bought the book for $200 and hoped to make a tidy profit on eBay. When going through the book, Waters came across the formula for a 'D Peppers Pepsin Bitter'. To add fuel to the fire, the book also had sheets with a letterhead from the WB Morrison and Co. Old Corner Drug Store where Alderton worked. 

Was this the original recipe for Dr Pepper? Waters believed so, but his claim was refuted by Dr Pepper's parent company. Keurig Dr Pepper insisted that the formula was for a digestive aid. Nonetheless, Waters attempted to auction the ledger in May 2009 but did not find a buyer.

The ledger found by Waters that was up for auction (A-OK Auction)

Current owner

The ownership of Dr Pepper is a long and complex one. In the US, the company was owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which purchased Dr Pepper in 1995. Internationally it was owned by its competitors. The Coca-Cola Company owns the rights to Dr Pepper in Europe while PepsiCo the rights in Poland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In 2018, the group was acquired by Keurig for $18.7B and rebranded Keurig Dr Pepper. 

Keurig Dr Pepper is currently run by Robert Gamgort. A graduate of Kellog School of Management, Gamgort has over 30 years of experience in consumer products and entertainment. Gamgort serves as the CEO and chair of the board of directors. Keurig also owns 7Up, Schweppes, Hires and Nehi Cola under its flavored soft drinks division. Other brands owned by Keurig include Gloria Jeans Coffees, Panera Bread, Krispy Kreme, Canada Dry, Evian and Margaritaville. 

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