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Grapette soda was developed by Benjamin Tyndle Fooks in Camden (Ouachita County) in 1939. Once one of the bestselling non-cola soft drinks in the United States, Grapette virtually disappeared from the marketplace for most of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s after being bought by a leading competitor. As the twenty-first century began, Grapette International in Malvern (Hot Spring County), the last remaining subsidiary of Fooks’s Grapette Company, re-acquired the Grapette and Orangette trademarks, reuniting the original flavors with the brand names. Currently Grapette, Orangette, and two other flavors made by Grapette International are distributed nationwide exclusively in Wal-Mart stores as part of their store brand line of soft drinks.
Fooks bought a soft-drink bottling plant in Camden in 1926 after leaving the lumber business. He bought a second plant in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 1927 and added a third in Hope (Hempstead County) the following year, which he used as a warehouse. However, the Depression forced him to close and sell his operations in Arkadelphia and Hope. Fooks focused on developing unique flavors from his plant in Camden, selling “Fooks Flavors” to other bottling plants throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, and east Texas. Fooks Flavors never attempted to match existing soft drinks, relying instead on unique tastes, like blackberry punch.
Fooks’s beverage sales continued to climb. Initially relying on his father and brother to assist with sales, Fooks added two friends to his sales force in 1932, and sales increased seven-fold. Sales reports showed that grape flavors were the most popular with customers, so in 1938, Fooks began experimenting with the distinctive grape flavor that was to become Grapette. By 1939, he had developed the flavor he wanted. Searching for a name for the new soft drink, Fooks found that the owner of the Sunset Liquor Company, Rube Goldstein, had registered trademarks for the names “Grapette,” “Lemonette,” and “Orangette” but had never used them. In 1939, Fooks purchased the copyrighted names for $500, and the following year, Grapette entered the market.
Grapette was an immediate success, eventually outselling all other grape sodas combined. The Grapette bottle itself was an innovation. It was very lightweight (six ounces) and clear, which allowed the liquid to show through the glass. Grapette was also sold in a thirty-bottle case instead of the conventional twenty-four-bottle case, making it attractive to retailers.
In 1946, Lemonette became available, followed by Orangette in 1947. Grapette introduced the “Mr. Cola” line of soft drinks in 1962. Further flavor introductions included Lymette, Cherryette, and Strawberryette, but they never reached the popularity of other flavors.
In 1948, Grapette introduced its famous “animal” syrups—animal-shaped glass containers that held syrup to be mixed with water. In 1965, a line of five flavors, including Grapette, became available in six-ounce frozen concentrate. Grapette expanded rapidly from 1950 to 1970, utilizing more than 300 bottlers in thirty-eight states.
In 1942, R. Paul May, a friend of Fooks from Camden, acquired the rights to Grapette outside the United States. The Grapette Export Company was officially established in 1944, becoming Grapette International in 1962. May sold his first Grapette franchise in Guatemala in 1945 and sold other franchises throughout Latin America thereafter. In 1972, May was succeeded by his son-in-law, Brooks T. Rice. Rice solidified the business in Latin America and also expanded the company into the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.
Domestically, however, Grapette was in decline. Through a series of acquisitions, the company was named Flavette in 1972 and was eventually controlled by the Monarch Company, the maker of rival Nu-Grape, in 1977. Without proper franchise support, market share tumbled, and Grapette virtually disappeared from the market. By the 1990s, Grapette was only being produced in limited areas.
In the late 1980s, Brooks Rice met Sam Walton, and soon, Wal-Mart was using Grapette flavors in its Sam’s Choice line of soft drinks. In early 2000, Grapette International purchased the U.S. rights to the Grapette and Orangette trademarks, and in 2005, Grapette and Orangette became available exclusively in Wal-Mart stores nationwide. In addition to Grapette and Orangette, Wal-Mart uses Grapette International’s raspberry and grapefruit flavors in its private label line of soft drinks.
For additional information:Bowers, Rodney. “Grapette Uncaps Plans for Comeback in U.S. Baby Boomer Market.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June, 25, 2000, p. 1B.
Grapette. http://www.grapette.com (accessed May 30, 2007).
“Grapette and Camden.” Ouachita County Historical Quarterly 44 (Winter 2013): 7–11.
Grapette International. http://www.grapetteinternational.com (accessed May 30, 2007).
Pennington, John V. “Grape Expectations.” The Sentinel-Record. February 2, 1998, p. 1A.
Thomas, DeAnn. “Grapette Back in a Big Way.” Malvern Daily Record. May 19, 2005, p.1.
David RiceGrapette International, Inc.
Last Updated 2/7/2013
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