Walgreens Premium Soda Fizzes To The Top!

Walgreens Private Label Soda

This past Thursday, I woke up with a terrible cough, slight fever and an achy body. After a trip to the doctor and mumblings from family and coworkers about Swine Flu, I found myself standing in our neighborhood Walgreens waiting on several prescriptions. (No Swine Flue though) It is a relatively new store that is part of the walk able community I wrote of earlier in the week, Birkdale Village so it has an expanded grocery and convenience section. I discovered several private label sodas including a national brand equivalent Walgreens branded soda and a premium Deerfield Trading Company Old Fashioned Soda with real cane sugar.

Here is the case study as it is published on the Toronto based agency Picadilly Communication’s website:

Work with client to create packaging for a new Walgreens premium soda product to capitalize on the renewed interest in ‘old-fashioned’ low fructose, naturally flavoured soda products

Create a package that would communicate the various product attributes and communicate the premium positioning of the product

Worked with key client contacts to help identify other products and package executions in similar/other categories that were felt to be good examples of the ‘look and feel’ they desired. Based on final briefing and directional conversations, execute design of packaging for 5 SKU’s

Design Execution:
Proceeded through the design process based on:

  • Presentation of concepts
  • Discussion of strengths/weaknesses of various executions and agree on required changes/modifications and next steps
  • Revise, re-present and repeat process until complete

Product launched in all 5,700 Walgreens stores nationally in early June of ’07 with national newspaper support of special launch promotional pricing and in-store display activity. Product is selling ahead of forecast and Walgreens is considering more SKU’s to maintain the sales momentum

After discovering this I was curious about Walgreens soda fountain past and found the following excerpt on the Walgreens website. It is amazing how everything that is old seems to be new again.

The year was 1910. Walgreen now had two stores. His challenge: how to find ever-new ways of satisfying a growing customer base while outshining his competitors.

Over the preceding 100 years, the soda fountain had become key to virtually every American drugstore. Beginning in the early 19th century, bottled soda water, and later charged soda water, were considered important health aids, making it a natural fixture in drugstores. To dispense the icy-cold, charged water, a tin pipe and spigot were attached. Soon, flavored syrups were added to the fizzy water and still later, ice cream added to that. As sodas grew in popularity, so the “soda fountain” grew in beauty, ornamentation and importance as a revenue source to the drugstore.

Manufacturers vied in creating ornate fountains, with onyx counter-tops and fixtures of silver and bronze and lighting by Tiffany.

The milkshake that shook up America
By 1920, now 20 stores strong and growing quickly, Walgreens was an established fixture on Chicago’s retail scene. Throughout this decade, Walgreens underwent phenomenal growth. By 1929, the total number of Walgreens stores reached 525, including locations in New York City, Florida and other major markets. Many factors contributed to this unprecedented growth: a superb management team, modern merchandising, innovative store design, fair pricing, outstanding customer service and exceedingly high pharmacy quality and service. Yet, one can’t overlook something that may have seemed a minor innovation at the time. This was the invention of Walgreens immortal malted milkshake, an instant classic, by Ivar “Pop” Coulson in 1922. Coulson was a lover of fountain creations and the backbone the Walgreens soda fountain since 1914. His chocolate malted milk was a development for the company that was anything but minor.

Coulson had always been eager to improve on whatever he and his fountain clerks had to offer, and he made generous use of Walgreens extra-rich ice cream, manufactured in Walgreen’s own plant on East 40th Street in Chicago.

Until then, malted milk drinks were made by mixing milk, chocolate syrup and a spoonful of malt powder in a metal container, then pouring the mixture into a glass. On one especially hot summer day in 1922, Pop Coulson set off his revolution. To the basic mixture, he added a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, then another.

Priced at 20 Cents,
Coulson’s new malted milkshake came with a glassine bag containing two complimentary vanilla cookies from the company bakery.

Walgreens Customers at the Soda Fountain Response could not have been stronger if Coulson had found a cure for the common cold! His luscious creation was adopted by fountain managers in every Walgreens store. It was written about in newspapers and talked about in every city where there was a Walgreens. But most of all, it was the object of much adoration. It was not at all unusual to see long lines outside Walgreens stores and customers stand three and four deep at the fountain waiting for the new drink. Suddenly, “Meet me at Walgreens for a shake and a sandwich” became bywords as popular as “Meet me under the Marshall Fields clock” at State and Randolph in Chicago.

So, once again, Charles Walgreen’s prediction that his soda fountain would be absolutely essential to his stores as a source of revenue, company growth and increased customer satisfaction (which translated into even higher levels of customer loyalty and patronage) came true. In its own way, Coulson’s malted was the fuel for Walgreens dramatic growth.

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.