Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The House of Lazier Part One - Sun Drop: The Evolution of a Legend

With the new push of Sun Drop toward resurfacing as a national brand, there is much confusion as to its origins. Many would have you believe that it is a Mountain Dew imitator created, like so many others, to capture some of the glory of Mountain Dew’s success in the late 1960’s. Some think that it has always been the citrus lemon flavor that it is today.  The reality is that the early history of this brand is shrouded in the mists of time, and that the brand has evolved from its original beginnings into the brand, and formula, we know today.

The story begins with the J. F. Lazier Company, sellers of flavor extracts and bottling equipment, who were based in St. Louis, Missouri. The Lazier Company created an orange extract in 1929 which they would name Sun Drop, and the trademark would be registered on April 15, 1930. The selling point for this new extract was to offer a way for bottlers to attempt to regain the orange drink business that was being lost to the dairies. Sun Drop came in two types, Number One was the “Dairy Type” for making a non-carbonated orange drink, Number Two was the “Regular Bottler Type” which would be used for a carbonated drink. The concentrate could be used under the bottler’s own name, or as Sun Drop Orangeade with their complete line of labels, caps, and advertising.

By 1940 there were actually three Sun Drop flavors, Sun Drop Orangeade, Sun Drop Punch and Sun Drop Lemonade, with Sun Drop Lemonade being the most popular. Sun Drop Lemonade had been introduced in 1937, and was claimed to be the “first natural pure lemonade ever made”. By the end of the 1940’s the other two flavors seem to have been dropped from the brand leaving only Sun Drop Lemonade. The orange flavor had been taken over in popularity by another Lazier Company brand, Mil-Kay. Mil-Kay was so popular that the company had renamed itself the Mil-Kay Orange Corporation.

In 1952 Charles E. Lazier the president of the company decided to reformulate the Sun Drop brand. What he created was the first “citrus cola type” drink which he named Sun Drop, sometimes called Golden Girl Cola. Golden Girl was a name that the Lazier Company had trademarked on April 21, 1928 for use “particularly for orange beverage”. At first glance one would think that Sun Drop was created as a replacement for the Golden Girl brand; however, the company renewed the Golden Girl trademark in 1948. The resurgence of the name in association with the newly reformulated Sun Drop leaves one wondering what the relation between Golden Girl and Sun Drop actually is. The only clue I have found so far is in the form of a Sun Drop Orange Extract letterhead from around 1930, a girl is pictured in the corner of the title graphic holding oranges in her apron, is this Golden Girl? Was she actually a mascot for the early Sun Drop brand?

As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, many think that Sun Drop is an imitator of Mountain Dew. The reality of the situation is that it is more likely that Mountain Dew was created to imitate Sun Drop. Mountain Dew’s modern formula wasn’t created until sometime between 1960 and 1962, depending upon who’s story you believe, which is eight to ten years later than Sun Drop. The first franchise for Mountain Dew, Tri-City Beverage, was bottling the new Sun Drop formula in 1953. Legend states that Bill Bridgeforth, created the modern Mountain Dew formula by filling their Mountain Dew bottles with their own Tri-City Lemonade to eliminate the duplicate lemon drinks in their lineup around 1960. This included replacing Sun Drop.

The newly reformulated Sun Drop/Golden Girl Cola was off to a good start and doing well enough for Charles Lazier to decide to do the same thing with Mil-Kay, calling it Mil-Kay Orange Cola. By 1956 the formula was selling so well that the company renamed themselves the Sun Drop Sales Corporation of America. Sun Drop / Golden Girl Cola sold quite well into the 1970’s; however, as we progressed into modern day the brand’s area of availability had shrunk quite a bit, and until recently was usually only available in the South Eastern part of the United States. As I stated at the beginning the owners of the Sun Drop brand recently started a huge push of their product nationwide, and actively going after their direct competition, Mountain Dew and Mello Yello. I say good luck to them as a brand that has been around as long as Sun Drop deserves to survive and thrive.

The registration certificate for the original Sun Drop

A letterhead for Sun Drop Orange Concentrate, is that an early version of the Golden Girl in the corner?
Early Sun Drop Lemon Drink

The registration certificate for Golden Girl

A paper labeled Sun Drop Lemonade

Sun Drop Lemonade Cap

The registration certificate for the Sun Drop Lemonade logo

A variation of the Sun Drop Lemonade cap

A 10oz Sun Drop Fruit Drinks bottle which lists Sun Drop Orange, Lemonade, and Punch as flavors

12oz Sun Drop Lemonade bottle same design as the 10oz above, but dedicated to the Lemonade flavor

7oz Sun Drop bottle design introduced with its reformulation in 1953
Sun Drop mixing glass