Throwback sodas keeping state sugar farmers merry

Sep 28, 2013 The Associated Press

POWELL -- Glistening retro-style cans shuffle quickly down a conveyer belt, destined to be filled with cold, fizzy soda. Unlike most of their modern aluminum counterparts, these cans will contain a classic ingredient: real sugar.

After decades of using corn syrup exclusively, PepsiCo returned to the sweet ingredient from Big Horn Basin beets in 2009 for speciality sodas. Initially introduced for a limited time only, Pepsi Throwback quickly caught on. It didn't take long before consumer demand led to another limited-time production. And then another.

By the spring of 2011, the sugar-infused Pepsi Throwback, along with Mountain Dew Throwback, became permanent.

"It took off and we kept it," said Dave Willard, vice president of production for Admiral Beverage.

That's good news for area farmers.

"It brought back a lot of interest in the sugar beet industry," Willard said. "One of the biggest reasons we did it is we're a local business. That's big for us."

With Throwback drinks, the Worland-based bottling and distribution company helped lead the way back to real sugar. It's a departure from high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener commonly used in pop since the 1980s.

"We convinced them it was a great idea," Willard said. "It was great for our state, for our community and for everybody else involved."

Using Throwback concentrate from PepsiCo, Admiral Beverage combines it with Wyoming sugar and water, then carbonates it and puts it in cans or bottles.

The company also produces Dr. Pepper Heritage with real sugar.

Admiral Beverage used slightly more than 700,000 pounds of sugar from Big Horn Basin beets in 2012. With that granulated sugar, the company produced more than 250,000 cases of Throwback products last year. With 24 cans of pop to each case, that equates to more than 6 million cans.

From Worland, Throwback products are distributed to seven states. The company's plant in Ogden, Utah, also uses real sugar in Throwback products, that sugar coming from beets grown in Idaho.

Today's sugary soda draws on nostalgia, and that's part of its success. For decades, Americans drank Pepsi and other colas sweetened with real sugar. Now, tasting the distinctive real sugar flavor reminds folks of what soda used to taste like -- hence the Throwback name and retro logos.

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