Cheerwine ready to cool off Hotlanta

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
You say Atlanta, Cheerwine says Hotlanta.
Since its introduction in grocery stores in May, Salisbury-based Cheerwine has caught fire in metropolitan Atlanta, known as the home of Coca-Cola.
“We’re excited about Atlanta, absolutely,” Vice President of Marketing Tom Barbitta says.
Don’t think it’s a soft drink war.
Barbitta says Cheerwine isn’t even on Coke’s radar, and Coke isn’t on Cheerwine’s.
The stars just happened to align for a good execution at the retail level ó that is, getting product into stores ó and also finding a good bottling partner in Atlanta, Barbitta says.
Cheerwine is available in Atlanta in Food Lion, Kroger, Wal-Mart, Publix and Ingles stores, with convenience stores on the horizon.
Cheerwine already was available in northern and southern Georgia. Filling the doughnut hole that included Atlanta was just “a natural outgrowth,” Barbitta says.
Carolina Beverage Corp., makers of Cheerwine, has found that it already had a nice base of consumers in Atlanta already familiar with the brand. After the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Cheerwine’s arrival, the number of telephone calls and e-mails to Cheerwine “has been incredible,” Barbitta says.
“The product is moving at a rate, in some cases, faster than they can keep it on the shelves,” he adds.
So far it’s all word of mouth. Advertising probably will begin in that area later this summer or in the fall.
In July, Barbitta intends to have a media day and press conference for Cheerwine in Atlanta.
Cheerwine is now available in 20 states ó even in California ó but the brand’s largest footprint is in North Carolina and nearby states.
Barbitta says Cheerwine views soft-drink giant Coke as a help, not a hindrance. Coke’s role is to bring new consumers into the category and grow it. If those new consumers discover Cheerwine, all the better.
“We’ll work the niche that we’ve developed as a unique, sparkling (cherry) soft drink,” Barbitta says.
On a related front, Cheerwine has signed on with a new advertising agency in Atlanta, the Hauser Group.
The agency will be coming out with a new brand strategy in coming months. Changes also are in store for Cheerwine’s packaging.