Hires – The First Root Beer, Dying A Slow, Prolonged Death
I know soda isn’t good for you. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many nutritionists would like to slap a soda tax on sugary beverages.
I try not to drink a lot of soda, but I have a sweet spot in my heart for Hires Root Beer. I love the stuff. It is by far the best root beer ever made and I have tried many of them: IBC, Stewart’s, Mug, A&W, Dr. Brown’s and about a dozen or more other smaller regional brands, and none compare to the unique, smooth taste of Hires. But I have not had a sip of Hires in over six years.
I did not forsake Hires. Instead the brand has slowly been vanishing off the shelves of supermarkets in an ever widening circle over the past 20 years. It is now unavailable in most portions of the United States and Canada.
How did the oldest continually produced soft drink and for many years, most popular root beer in America get to this situation?
The answer lies in the beverage industry and their mistaken belief that a company should support only one line of a given product. Through acquisitions and mergers these big companies gobble up smaller soda competitors, acquiring their brands and either concentrate on expanding them or as is more often the case – eliminating them.
Charles E. Hires was a Philadelphia pharmacist who introduced the soda at the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia and went on to make millions with his delicious concoction.
The Hires company remained in family hands until 1960 and through a series of sales over the next 30 years, ended up being acquired by Cadbury Schweppes in 1989. Cadbury Schweppes started the decline of Hires as a brand as they decided to concentrate their soda marketing efforts on more popular sodas. In 2008 Cadbury Schweppes spun off the soft drink division into the current Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.
Cadbury Schweppes and its successor entity Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, decision was to promote their own A&W Root Beer brand and phase out Hires. Slowly.
I’ve spoken to supermarket managers, beverage warehouses owners and some bottlers to discover that for 20 years A&W Root Beer has been pushed everywhere.
When I called Dr. Pepper Snapple customer service to find out where I could purchase Hires after giving my zip code, I was told it was not available within a 100 mile radius of New York.
Up until about 1997 Hires was available at beer & soda warehouses in New York City, if not some supermarkets and convenience stores. Then it was slowly taken off the shelves until no one was carrying it. Three years later it was still available in upstate Fishkill, New York and the scenario repeated. The supermarkets stopped carrying it. Eight years ago it was available throughout most of Southern Pennsylvania. The familiar scenario played out again in my travels to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – all stores that once stocked Hires were no longer carrying it. Hires has retreated southwards, closer to the last bottler east of the Mississippi that still manufactures and bottles Hires – the Independent Beverage Group of North Carolina. (see update at end of the article.)
There are apparently a few stores in Maryland and North Carolina that carry Hires, but not many. Today I called some stores in Maryland that had stocked it earlier in the year to find out they did not have it anymore.
The beverage industry is fiercely competitive and of course possesses a website devoted to all things beverage related. In January 2011 a writer named thejax at bevnet.com started this thread about finding Hires in stores:
Hires Root Beer – In Case You Didn’t Notice
I been purchasing Hires Root Beer for some time and now its literally non-existent.
Its one of the oldest root beers in the USA and hails from Philadelphia, where I am from.
Several years ago Dr Pepper / 7up decided slow the production of Hires by enticing bottlers to bottle A&W with kickbacks. This is all to precede with a master plan to phase out Hires.
I have done months of research and I cannot find a bottler anywhere in the USA that still bottles it anymore. I called Dr Pepper / Snapple’s corporate offices several times. They tell me its still being produced. I requested a list of where its being bottled and everytime I give them my info they have my local bottler call me with no information except they do not bottle it.
I have wrote a letters to Dr Pepper / 7up and to Cadbury / Shweppes requesting information on where this LICENSED to be bottles and where. I sent both letters certified. Both letters were signed for yet months later I still have no response.
My conclusion is Dr Pepper / Snapple are basically trying to get everyone to forget about so when they stop licensing to bottle it, no one is supposed to notice. Then they can focus on their A&W Brand, which is significantly different.
So my question is, at what point are we going to stop allowing these soda giants to do this to us. They bought Hires on purpose to phase it out. Now how do we bring this to light. Should or can we do anything about it?
Dr Pepper / Snapple will not allow me to have any access whatsoever to any corporate execs to ask them to make a motion to start producing more Hires. So what do we do???
After much back and forth on the web site discussion board, (5 pages worth) the original poster, thejax wrote this post in April 2011. It shows an incredible display of ineptitude at Dr. Pepper Snapple.
What this means for Hires is certain death. How do I know? If you look at the the company’s web page for Hires you will see the history of the soda, but click on the nutritional information tab and the other brands will be there, but not Hires.
Click on the product locator and the drop down menu does not even have Hires listed as a product.
Call up the toll free number and enter your zip code to find the product and chances are unless you live near North Carolina, Iowa, Arizona, Nevada or Washington you will not be able to find it. These five states possess the only remaining bottling plants for Hires and they seem to be phasing out production of the soda.
As you scroll down on the Dr. Pepper / Snapple Hires page, the photograph says it all.
An appropriately empty bottle.
The time has run out for Hires.
UPDATE October 2015 – Another nail in the Hires coffin. This email came to us from the people at the Independent Beverage of Charlotte, NC:
Independent Beverage of Charlotte, NC hasn’t produced Hires Root Beer for years. It is a brand that belongs to Dr. Pepper Snapple Group of Plano, TX, and we used to bottle it for them. A few of you have contacted us recently, so I wanted to come to the source of the information to let you all know. When this article was written in 2011, we were still producing, but that was toward the tail end of our Hires production.
Best of luck with your search for Hires Root Beer!