Chapter Three

THE SUCCESS OF DIET RITE

In 1955, Mr. Colbert was succeeded as president by Wilbur H. Glenn who served in that capacity until April 1965. During the "Glenn Years" the company experienced further growth, and made its third corporate name change from Nehi Corporation to Royal Crown Cola Co., and in 1961, began the dramatic story of development and consumer acceptance of Diet Rite Cola which amazed the business and marketing leaders throughout the country.

Diet Rite Cola had originally been marketed on a limited basis as a special dietary soft drink. In those days it was characterized by the after-taste commonly associated with artificial sweeteners. The company's researchers set out to eliminate this, to improve the cola flavour of the product, and to reduce its caloric content.

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It was an almost impossible task because of the technicalities involved, and if not for their perseverance, the product might well have remained on the shelves of specialty health food dealers. The particular consumers whom they had in mind were diabetics and other individuals who, because of various health factors, were limited or restricted in their use of sugar or high-calorie foods and beverages.

Royal Crown Cola Co's technicians made what industry leaders term "the most amazing breakthrough in soft drink technological history." These scientists compounded a true cola flavour which was completely free of sugar, devoid of after taste, and with a caloric content which was subsequently reduced to the amount of less than one calorie per bottle.

The marketing staff, under the direction of then vice president, William E. Uzzell, selected Greenville, South Carolina, as the first testing site because it was considered a typical market. The Greenville test exceeded the company's fondest expectations; Diet Rite accounted for a major percentage of the bottler's plant volume within 90 days without detracting from the plant's normal increase in regular product sales.

Based on consumer acceptance in Greenville, other hand-picked markets were supplied Diet Rite Cola in a carefully planned program of introduction. Bottlers reported fantastic acceptance. In one major market Diet Rite bottles became so scarce that the bottler was forced to run ads in local newspapers urging the public to return their empty bottles to relieve the shortage.

In Chicago, where Royal Crown Cola had been running third to its larger competitors, a consumer panel rated Diet Rite Cola the number one soft drink in the Chicago market during the period of the panel's evaluation. In market after market across the country, the story was the same. In just 18 months Diet Rite Cola easily became the number four cola in the United States.

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Its success could not be kept a secret from the industry, and soon the impact of Diet Rite Cola was felt in executive offices of soft drink operations from coast to coast. Industry giants could no longer ignore the hard facts. Diet Rite Cola was not only gathering the diabetics and health conscious groups into its folds, it was gaining a phenomenal number of converts from the regular cola market which the giants had dominated for so long. The message was clear: other soft drink companies needed to enter this new segment of the soft drink industry.

The success of Diet Rite Cola following its nationwide introduction in 1962 resulted in the creation of thousands of new jobs within the soft drink industry and in its huge supplier organization. Other businesses which boomed as a result of Diet Rite's success included glass, paper carton, bottle crown, truck and printing operations. Many chemical firms built new production facilities to meet the latest requirements of the soft drink industry. New bottling plants were constructed throughout Royal Crown Company's franchise system, and bottler's production equipment were modernized or replaced to meet demands for increased production.

In 1965, William E. Uzzell succeeded Mr. Glenn as president.

During the early period of his presidency, Mr. Uzzell began a vigorous program of infusing new talent into all levels of the company.

In a move designed to serve bottlers needs more completely and expand product distribution, the company realigned its sales territories from five divisions, each headed by a division manager, into four zones, each headed by Vice President. Zone offices were located in Forest Hills, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.

By 1967, during the presidency of William E. Uzzell, trouble began brewing. Diet Rite Cola was still going strong despite the introduction of competitive products, but the safety of the artificial sweetener responsible for the low- caloric content and lack of after taste began to be questioned. The culminated in a ban on cyclamate in 1969. Diet Soft drinks had to be reformulated. This was an expensive proposition. Money was needed to repair the damage caused by the cyclamate ban and to fund new programs for bottlers.

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William C. Durkee, who assumed the presidency of Royal Crown Cola Co. in 1969, was forced to look for additional revenue sources. He reorganized the sales department, and began an aggressive acquisition program. The company branched into the home decor business and the fruit juice business, both which contributed greatly to the strength of the company. However, Royal Crown Cola Co. remained principally a soft drink company.