Cheerwine buys Sun Drop Bottling franchise rights

Published 1:48 pm Thursday, December 1, 2016

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — Two locally iconic soft drinks — Cheerwine and Sun Drop — are coming under the same umbrella.

Piedmont Cheerwine Bottling Co. has bought Sun Drop Bottling Co. of Concord and its franchise rights, allowing Salisbury-based Cheerwine to distribute Sun Drop in Rowan, Iredell, Cabarrus and Stanly counties.

Cheerwine President and Chief Executive Officer Cliff Ritchie called the purchase of the franchise rights “a great day for us” and promised Sun Drop and Cherry Lemon Sun Drop would continue to be available in all local retail outlets and maybe even to a wider area in the long run.

Dr Pepper actually owns the Sun Drop formula, which is not expected to change.

Sun Drop employees learned of the deal Wednesday, and the Concord plant at 360 Old Salisbury-Concord Road reportedly has closed. Sources said 11 Sun Drop employees were laid off.

Ritchie said Thursday afternoon Cheerwine had extended an invitation to all former Sun Drop employees to fill out applications for employment and said his company is actively hiring.

“And several of them have been hired,” Ritchie said. “We’re glad to have them. It’s hard to find good employees.”

The Sun Drop brand dates back to 1954. Bill and Margaret King were the original owners, and it had remained in the King family.

Sun Drop Chief Executive Officer John King told employees about the sale of the distribution rights, which became effective today, according to Ritchie.

Cheerwine as a brand will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2017.

Ritchie noted that Piedmont Cheerwine Bottling currently bottles and distributes Sun Drop in dozens of others locations — from Lexington to Danville, Va. — and has done so for about 20 years.

He said Sun Drop, which has many loyal customers, was not bottling at its Concord plant and received its finished product from elsewhere.

Ritchie said purchase of the bottling company is not unusual and that Cheerwine has been buying franchises in the Carolinas for many years. He said anytime the company can add a brand that sits on top of Cheerwine’s existing territory, it makes the company stronger.

“As we look forward to Cheerwine’s 100th anniversary next year in its birthplace and home of Salisbury,” Ritchie said in a later press release, “we’re excited to deepen our distribution relationship with Sun Drop here in North Carolina.

“Both iconic soft drinks have much in common, from their loyal followings to their Southern roots, and we’ve enjoyed helping to bring Sun Drop to Carolinians for a while now.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.