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Dr Pepper feud: Small town takes on corporate giant [Updated]

August 11, 2011 |  4:06 pm

Dublin-Dr.-Pepper 
This post has been updated with a comment from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group below.

Don't mess with Dublin, Texas. The tiny Texas town is rallying support around bottler Dublin Dr Pepper -- which has 37 employees -- in its legal battle with the considerably larger Dr Pepper Snapple.

There's an "I support Dublin Dr. Pepper" Facebook page with 5,470 "likes" and counting. Twitter vows of succor. Even a YouTube video compiling shout-outs for the family-run business. So far, it has 768 views. Now for the back story:

Dublin Dr Pepper has created a national following by bottling its own version of Dr Pepper soda using real cane sugar. It's been in business for more than 120 years, and counts Texas Gov. Rick Perry among its fans. (Deliveries of Dublin Dr Pepper arrive at the governor's mansion with regularity, and the soda is served to guests.)

Dublin Dr Pepper had enjoyed a warm relationship with its corporate counterpart until a lawsuit seeking to terminate the contract caught the smaller company by surprise in June, said the Dublin company's attorney, Steven Wolens. "They didn’t see a lawsuit coming at all," he said. "They had just celebrated their 120th anniversary. Six days later, they had a lawsuit."

Efforts to reach Dr Pepper Snapple for its side of the story were unsuccessful. (If that changes, we will update this post.)

A statement released by Wolens' office said Dr Pepper Snapple wants to terminate its licensing agreement, prevent the small bottling company from using the iconic Dublin Dr Pepper name, and stop sales on its website. It also wants attorneys fees. That alone could be crippling

“There would be nothing left except the bottle caps,” Wolens said, adding that Dublin Dr Pepper's sales amount to less than one-tenth of 1% of overall Dr Pepper sales.

So what is this lawsuit really all about? Some say it comes down to sugar.

Dublin Dr Pepper has created a loyal following in part because it uses cane sugar (not beet sugar, and certainly not high-fructose corn syrup) to sweeten its pop. Cane sugar has become increasingly popular as a soda sweetener both because of the unique taste it imparts and because so many people hate HFCS.

Dr Pepper Snapple also seems to have its eye on the cane-sugar-sweetened soda business. The bigger company has already tried to lure customers with its own sugar-infused version of the drink using beet sugar, and met with some success. (Read more: Dr Pepper orders sugar for 125th anniversary and Coming Soon: Heritage Dr Pepper.) 

This TMCnet article lays out the feud, including this tidy synopsis:

"The corporation issued a statement saying that it is not trying to prevent Dublin Dr. Pepper from making the product with cane sugar, only to force it to "sell only within their six-county territory and stop marketing and packaging Dr Pepper as Dublin Dr Pepper." ... For its part, Dublin Dr  Pepper suspects that the lawsuit was filed because corporate Dr Pepper recently began selling its own sugar-cane version of the soft drink."

We haven't heard back from Dr Pepper Snapple, so there will be no jumping to conclusions at this time.

[Updated at 7:05 p.m.]: Greg Artkop, a spokesman for Dr Pepper Snapple, said via email that there's another side to the story:

"Quite simply, the Dublin bottler is misusing our trademark and has been for years. We’re not seeking money or to prevent them from selling Dr Pepper made with cane sugar. We simply want them to sell only within their six-county territory and stop marketing and packaging Dr Pepper as ‘Dublin Dr Pepper.’ Their conduct dilutes our trademark and creates confusion in the marketplace....

"We tried to resolve these issues with Dublin without turning to the courts. We even offered alternative packaging that promotes their heritage and their use of cane sugar, but in a way that stays true to the famous Dr Pepper trademark. They refused this compromise and demanded money to honor their agreement, which left us no choice but to file suit."

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo via Flickr: Mirka23

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