For nearly 100 years the A-Treat carbonated soft-drink brand served as an icon. The label remained immensely popular within the small region of northeastern Pennsylvania where it was distributed.
The company was founded in 1918 by the Egizio brothers, John and Jack, in their garage in Allentown. Then, some 15 years later, in 1932, the brothers opened a plant at 2001 Union Blvd. The plant would continue to operate providing jobs and its famous local beverages until this past January.
During those in-between decades, the brand quickly won over soda drinkers living within its admittedly local reach.
A local paper, The Morning Call, explains how much the hometown brand was beloved, even over bigger national brands like Coke and Pepsi. When the factory finally closed its doors earlier this year, the paper eulogized:
“Goodbye, A-Treat. Birthday parties and barbecues, field trips and family picnics won’t be the same without you.
Those are the events where generations of Lehigh Valley residents learned to love the many varieties of soda produced in A-Treat’s east Allentown factory: the cola and cream soda, the birch beer and ginger ale, the grapefruit and black cherry and sarsaparilla and Big Blue — the blue raspberry variety that was colored like nothing in nature but was catnip to sweet-toothed kids.”
As you can see, to its local customer base, the company was much more than just another discount bottler.
Aside from the wide assortment of flavors it offered, A-Treat also built its reputation on its own set of standards. The company’s official website notes:
“We are especially proud of this reputation since we generally do not use the ‘stock’ extracts offered by the various flavor houses but produce our own flavoring material from basic essential oils or procure our flavoring material from outside sources produced according to our specifications.”
More than 25 different flavors were available, including a diet version of each.
Then, one Friday in early 2015, it all came to an end when the A-Treat plant suddenly and silently closed down.
Rumors about the plant’s possible closure had begun circulating as early as November. At that time A-Treat faced a crushing blow with local distribution. Vice president Tom Garvey told local media the company had decided to pull its beverages from local WalMarts when the retailer insisted its shelves be resupplied daily.
It was something the small local beverage company was either unable or unwilling to do.
But A-Treat also faced other challenges. One was a carbonated soft-drink market in steady decline. Soda sales have been falling for the past decade, as consumers turn increasingly to flavored waters and teas, as well as sports drinks.
Still, whatever business failings may have led to its demise, clearly the A-Treat brand remains strong. So what kinds of qualities make a brand valuable?
In a post on the TodayMade marketing blog, Julie Neidlinger writes:
“Valuable brands, internally and externally, tap into how people feel. Loyalty, happiness, good causes, charity, exclusivity, beautiful, acceptance, loved, courageous — answer these emotions, and your brand’s value will grow.”
In this case, A-Treat’s possession of at least some of these qualities have kept the brand alive even after the demise of the company that brought it to the public. A Facebook community was even launched to promote its possible return.
So it probably should not have been a surprise when local developer David Jaindl announced plans to bring A-Treat back.
Jaindle made the announcement to the local press recently calling A-Treat a “cherished local brand.” He predicting customers would be able to find it again on their local shelves by early fall.
One question that arises: Is A-Treat’s brand equity strong enough to return the beverage label to its previous popularity even after the company that built it up failed so completely?
Based on the outpouring of support from A-Treat consumers, maybe so.
The brand was apparently never tainted by the company’s distribution troubles, for example. Several retailers have already voiced their intent to stock A-Treat when it’s available again.
And local enthusiasm for the product seems undiminished, too. Brands can sometimes be inextricably tied to the reputation and success of the businesses behind them. But A-Treat may an example where branding really does win out.
Image: Let’s Keep A-Treat Sodas Flowin’/Facebook