Dr. Pepper Dethrones Pepsi for Second Most Popular Soda in US

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Step aside, Pepsi. The Dr. is in. There’s a new number two in the cola wars, and the 140 year-old soda known as Dr. Pepper just surpassed Pepsi for the first time ever, snagging the title of second most popular soft drink in the US.

Toppling Pepsi for second place – behind Coca Cola, who remains the most popular soda in the US – made headlines as the big news reverberated across the beverage industry, according to Beverage Digest. Clearly in America, it’s Dr. Pepper Time.

So how did they do it? The secret recipe revolves around two main ingredients: football and flavor innovation, says the Keurig Green Mountain and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, who came together in a 2018 acquisition.  

For the past few years, Dr. Pepper’s marketing strategy focused on college football. The brand became the first official sponsor of the college football playoff in 2014. They were also first on the scene in the NIL rights space by signing quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei in 2021, part of a long-running and highly popular “Fansville” campaign.

“Fansville” parodies high school sports dramas such as “Friday Night Lights” with a continuing story about fans in a fictional town obsessed with football. Launched in 2018, the ongoing campaign is entering its seventh year.

College football remains a fertile creative space to connect with fans over whatever’s hot in the sport at the moment. Last year, Dr. Pepper teamed with Heisman trophy winner, Caleb Williams, in a successful “FANicures” campaign, a nod to the player’s quirky gameday tradition and his nail-tech mother.

Keeping it fresh with new and innovative flavors is another influential element of the soda’s success. “The brand is 140 years old,” said Brad Rakes, senior director for brand marketing at Keurig Dr. Pepper. “If you do the same things you were doing 140 years ago, that’s not going to fuel growth.”

Case in point: Dr. Pepper’s Strawberries & Cream flavor churned out over $300 million in sales during 2013. Its new Creamy Coconut LTO sales are up over 50 percent in volume during the first five weeks.

The brand’s new flavors tend to over-index with younger and multicultural consumers. But over half the company’s growth still comes from its iconic Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper flavors, showing it’s important not to stray too far from their core business. “I think we’re striking that balance,” says Rake.

Dr. Pepper has been successful in building a loyal fan base with a foundation of high frequency customers. The company also stays on top of current trends, as evidenced in last month’s feature on drinking Dr. Pepper with pickles – sparked by the popular social media trend. The brand’s curated viral TikTok video garnered over 2.6 million views.

Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? Apparently plenty of Americans do. But where will the brand go from here? Keep reading to find out more.

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