Thursday, June 9, 2011

A cola brand of their own: a brief history of Kroger's Wescola.

Back in the early 1990’s I used to work for my local Kroger Grocery store as a bag boy. One of my duties was to go to the back and work the returned bottles. Yes we were still using returnable bottles in the early 90’s. Little did I know that this experience would come back to me later in life as a bottle collector. What was an annoying job now fascinates me. Of course the connection to Kroger would rear its head while some friends and I were digging in a dump a couple of years back. We happened upon several Wescola deco style bottles and our only clue to who produced them was the embossing on the bottom “Wesco Foods Cincinnati Ohio”. Figuring they have come in via train from there I didn’t think much of them; however, I got curious one day and looked up the company. It turns out that Wesco Foods was a branch of the Kroger Grocery Company, and that Wescola was Kroger’s attempt at creating their own cola brand.

Wescola was part of the Kroger Latonia Club line which would evolve into today’s Big K line of soft drinks. The majority of the Latonia Club line was actually paper label straight side bottles with very few surviving into modern day; however, Wescola for some reason was different. Kroger produced a specially designed embossed deco bottle for the brand. Deco bottles were a type of bottle that was popular during the 1920’s into the 1950’s and would either be embossed with some pattern or have its own unique shape. Wescola was the latter. The brand seems to have started being produced around 1937, which corresponds with the dates on the bottles themselves. The advertising of the time noted that it was their “new cola drink”. Unfortunately although the name shows up a lot from 1937 until the late 1940’s in their advertising, I’ve only found one actual ad that pictures the bottles themselves.

Early Latonia Club 24oz Lime Rickey paper label label.

8oz Wescola deco bottle dated 1937.

Wescola bottle cap from Detroit Michigan. Wesco Foods had three different branches which included Chicago, Detroit, and Cincinnati Ohio.

Big K Cola as it exists today, I wonder if this is the same formula as Wescola after all these years.