Barbitta touts Cheerwine’s authenticity in chamber speech

Published 12:10 am Friday, November 20, 2015

Salisbury-based Cheerwine is a brand with heritage, the company’s Vice President of marketing told the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Cheerwine Vice President Tom Barbitta spoke during the Chamber’s regularly scheduled Power in Partnership breakfast at Trinity Oaks and focused on the company’s brand value. Even though it competes against products like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Barbitta said Cheerwine is the best soft drink.

“It’s got this thing called authenticity,” he said. “You don’t have to market authenticity. You let it go, let it be great.”

A second reason Barbitta cited was independence.

“The brand (Cheerwine) is an independent family owned company now in its fifth generation,” he said. “If you do the math on how many companies make it past the second generation, it’s in the very low single digits.”

Cheerwine also doesn’t taste like any other product, he said.

“I’m sure it wouldn’t be where it is today if it tasted like something else in the soft drink category,” he said. “So, the fact that it’s authentic, the fact that it’s independent and the fact that it’s unduplicated powers it forward.”

So far, the three factors mentioned by Barbitta have powered Cheerwine for 98 years. It was created in Salisbury by L.D. Peeller in 1917. He purchased a cherry flavor from traveling salesman and began experimenting. Officially, Cheerwine is in 22 states, but Barbitta joked it’s in all 50.

“We just don’t know how it gets there,” he joked.

The company’s largest single region of sales is a “golden triangle” that extends from the Greensboro region to Asheville and Charlotte, according to Barbitta. It represents about 66 percent of the company’s total sales, he said. As Cheerwine looks to increase its presence in other states, however, Barbitta said the company is focused on staying true to its brand identity.

The soft drink has claimed the word “Legend” as part of its identity. The word is featured on packaging and in a number of Cheerwine’s programs such as its Legendary Giveback campaign, where the company partnered with the Avett Brothers band and raised more than $200,000 for charity.

Legend is also part of a new effort by Cheerwine to connect with consumers in new markets. As it expands, Barbitta said Cheerwine wants to connect with local legends in new markets. It’s a part of maintaining the company’s brand authenticity. No matter where the company goes, it can’t forget where it came from, Barbitta said.

One of its recent efforts to connect with new consumers is a branded documentary series called Local Legends National Treasures. With subtle inclusions of the Cheerwine brand, the series visits well-known places in various cities to tell a story. So far, there’s eight episodes that include cities in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Barbitta said the company will also embark on a tour in 2016, called the Legendary Taste Tour. It challenges participants with a simple statement when trying Cheerwine for the first time:

“Betcha can’t not smile.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.