“Gimme an RC Cola and a Moon Pie...”
April 16, 2016 3:22 PM   Subscribe

The Tragic History of RC Cola by Jeff Wells [Mental_Floss]
“But the number of RC drinkers could have been much, much higher. In an alternate—and completely plausible—universe, it would have given Coke and Pepsi a run for their money. At one point, it did. Believe it or not, Royal Crown Cola used to be one of the most innovative companies in the beverage industry. It came out with the first canned soda, the first caffeine-free soda, and the first 16-ounce soda. It was the first to take diet cola mainstream, and the first to stage nationwide taste tests. Given its long and pioneering history, RC deserved to be more than the middling soda brand it is today. In an industry that lives and dies by marketing, RC didn’t do nearly enough. But its failure wasn’t just due to lack of initiative. It was also a case of supremely bad luck, bad judgment, and a fateful ingredient known as cyclamate.”
posted by Fizz (51 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
It was all downhill for RC when they ditched the pyramids.

Nehi was great, though. You could mix n match flavors in the store. Eventually, though, there was always nothing left but some flavor everyone hated.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:36 PM on April 16, 2016

I've always associated RC Cola with the hospital. It's almost always available at vending machines at hospitals, along with Shasta, Squirt, Tab, & Fanta. Ironically, I think that's where cola drinks go to die, at the hospital.
posted by Fizz at 3:43 PM on April 16, 2016 [10 favorites]

None of the new products managed to move the dial, and today no RC product is anywhere near the best-seller charts.

It seems to be the fate of a lot of "small" big companies.
You are nimble enough to innovate, but inevitably if you hit on a winning formula, it will be co-opted by the front-runners who use their muscle to take the market from you.

Its first attempt to jump-start sales came in 1995 with RC Draft, a so-called “premium” soda made with cane sugar. Unfortunately for RC, people didn’t see what was so “premium” about the drink, and within a year it was pulled from shelves.

This, for example. Just a little before the outcry over HCFS and the craze for "throwback" sodas and Mexican Coke, which the big two have been quick to exploit.
posted by madajb at 3:54 PM on April 16, 2016 [14 favorites]

Oh man. Grew up on the south side of Chicago and have many fond memories including RC Cola.

A square-cut Super Six from Aurelios plus a liter of RC in one of those weird take-out draft soda cartons, couple of friends over, a cheesy horror or sci-fi movie on VHS... just about the perfect night in for a teenage South Sider in the 80s.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 4:00 PM on April 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

RC Cola is fairly popular in Israel for some reason, at least when I lived there. A deep-fried hot dog in a pita with hummus and Israeli salad (long story) and an RC cola brings me right back to Bat Yam in 2008.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:03 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I went on a road trip with my family when I was six. Road trips were always exciting for me, less for the joy of seeing the American west than for my mother's relaxed standards regarding sugar cereal and soda. I was an orange soda fanatic (so much so that the year before when I'd been unsupervised at a Christmas party I drank orange soda until I vomited, but I didn't tell anyone because then someone might stop me from drinking more orange soda that night), so when we stopped at a gas station and my dad to went inside to get us soda, I was deeply unhappy when he came back with RC Cola.

You know what's great about kids? Kids are dumb as fuck. Just the easiest people in the world to con.

My father reacted to my disappointment by acting like he couldn't be more pleased that I'd left more RC Cola for him. He asked me if I knew what the "RC" in "RC Cola" stood for. "Royal Crown," he said. "Royal... Crown... The king of sodas. The soda of kings." He punctuated his claim with a long sip of his RC Cola.

Being six, I hadn't yet spent a lot of time considering the ethical and logistical failings of monarchy as a system, and I knew that I wanted to drink whatever it was that the kings were drinking. I asked my dad for the my RC Cola. He made a show of pointing out that I'd said that I didn't want it, so it was his now, no backsies. I begged him (begged him!) for an RC Cola. Finally, in a demonstration of false magnanimity, he gave me my RC Cola, and I'll be damned if I didn't feel like a king drinking it.

And that is how you're supposed to market RC Cola.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:23 PM on April 16, 2016 [99 favorites]

Up here in Canada, the RC brand (no idea if it's just the name or the recipe too) is used use for the cola put out by Cott when they're selling their own soda instead of doing private label bottling.
posted by thecjm at 4:25 PM on April 16, 2016

I rather like RC, it's still available in grocery stores around here, and I'll drink it in preference to Coke or Pepsi. It doesn't hurt when it's discounted, either. I wonder if I can put in my own cherry flavoring and recreate Chero-Cola?
posted by JHarris at 4:28 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I always preferred RC. It had a softer, almost floral flavor. And forget the Moon Pie. Instead, pour a pack of salted peanuts down the neck and enjoy...
posted by jim in austin at 4:30 PM on April 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

So there's the joke:

A guy walks up to the counter and orders an RC and a Moon Pie. The clerk says, "You must be from Alabama," to which the customer indignantly asks "Now why would you say that? If I came in here and ordered me a polska keeeel-basa, would you say I was a Polish man?"

"No, sir."

"If I came in here and ordered myself up some pasta carbonara, would you just assume I was Eye-talian?"

"No, sir."

"If I came in here and ordered me a plate of latke, would you say I was Jewish?"

"No, sir."

"Then why -- I ask you, why -- would you assume that just because I walk up to you and ask for an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, I must be from Alabama?"

"Sir, this is a hardware store."

Which... okay. I get the punchline. But where did this joke come from? Where is near enough to Alabama to know that people down home like themselves some RC and Moon Pies, but far enough away that a half-decent hardware store *wouldn't* carry RC and Moon Pies? Sure any real southern hardware store is going to have a little table in the corner where a few zillion-year-old men are sitting drinking their RCs and eating their Moon Pies and contemplating whatever it is that such gentlemen might contemplate?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:52 PM on April 16, 2016 [18 favorites]

...if you hit on a winning formula, it will be co-opted by the front-runners who use their muscle to take the market from you.

And here I thought people really didn't understand how free markets worked!
posted by sneebler at 4:57 PM on April 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

I love RC Cola. Used to drink it all the time when I was in college. Prefer the taste over Coke and Pepsi too. Sadly, it has made no inroads here in Japan.
posted by snwod at 5:08 PM on April 16, 2016

I remember RC Cola being the "official cola" of the New York Mets back in the '80's and the large RC Cola sign in the Shea Stadium outfield. Come to think of it, I recall RC & Diet RITE having pretty good shelf presence in NYC well into the 80's.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:11 PM on April 16, 2016

I don't normally drink soda, but I remember a Chicago visit about 15+ years ago where the fast food place we were at had RC cola at the fountain and I just about lost my goddamn mind.

It retains a special place in my heart. I really don't know why, other than it just tastes really great with a Chicago dog and some proper steak fries.
posted by offalark at 6:22 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

RC Blue
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:41 PM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

RC and peanuts. Way better than coke and peanuts. And like Jim said (above) the peanuts go in the soda.
posted by jdfan at 6:54 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Used to be a NEHI bottler in my hometown till it closed around 1960. The side of their brick building retained the fading logo well into the 70s. Today, verbal directions still may include: "Turn left at the NEHI bottling company and..."
posted by hal9k at 6:55 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Geez, I'm old enough to remember when Diet Rite was still a popular brand... I also remember an editorial cartoon that compared the studies feeding rats huge amounts of cyclamate until they got cancer to doing a study that proved that cheese was hazardous because rats force-fed half a ton of it exploded.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:13 PM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm in Texas where our regional cola Dr Pepper is still going strong to the point where most restaurants pretty much have to include Dr Pepper in the fountain machine regardless of whether it's a Coke or a Pepsi machine so I totally understand why RC Cola still has loyal followers even though in most markets it's been reduced to the Cola that is just barely above store brand in terms of price point.

I vaguely remember the death of cyclamate based drinks and a similar issue around saccharine based drinks in the 70s which had the same type of health warning for a long time which was why there was such a rush to develop aspartame and later sucralose.

I really don't remember how cyclamate drinks tasted but if they tasted better than the abominations that are current diet drinks I can understand why big sugar wanted them dead. Pretty much every sweetener other than sugar and sugar alcohols either tastes awful or gives me a headache and stevia based drinks are only barely acceptable.
posted by vuron at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2016

I always preferred RC. It had a softer, almost floral flavor. And forget the Moon Pie. Instead, pour a pack of salted peanuts down the neck and enjoy...

That's interesting. In my family as a little kid, it was salted cashews. Every now and then I still get the glass bottle, chill it in the freezer, and either pour in the salted cashews or enjoy them on the side because the soda gets slightly frosted when opened. It really takes me back.

And yes, RC is still sold in glass non screw cap bottles around here.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:24 PM on April 16, 2016

I have such fond teenage memories of rooting around the house for loose change and walking down the street to the RC Cola machine in the middle of a summer night to grab an ice-cold can. It was in the packed dirt parking space of the little village deli shop and moths and mosquitoes would be dancing in it's eerie blue glow. Now I'm really thirsty for a diet RC and the psssch! sound of the can opening piercing the summer night.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:25 PM on April 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm in Texas where our regional cola Dr Pepper

Dr. Pepper is neither reigonal nor a cola. They have it every corner store in the five bouroughs, just about.
posted by jonmc at 8:35 PM on April 16, 2016

Yeah, we have Dr. Pepper in New York, but when I was visiting friends in West Virginia and Texas I was surprised to see more varieties than I did on our shelves. For instance, I've never found diet caffeine free Dr Pepper north of the Mason-Dixon line. There wrre other flavors I can't quite remember - maybe vanilla or something. Where our grocery store has half an isle of Pepsi and a few feet of Dr. Pepper on the shelf, it was the other way around in the stores I visited down there.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:00 PM on April 16, 2016

Diet Dr Pepper is one of the few diet sodas that actually tastes damn good. Diet Coke you can build an affinity for but Diet Dr Pepper is really tasty.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:05 PM on April 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

There are a lot of variations of Dr Pepper (and the official trademark is Dr WITHOUT the .) sold here in Californium, including Vanilla and Caffeine Free. One reason it gets confusing around here is that Dr Pepper merged with 7-Up but already had something like a 99-year contract with the Coca-Cola regional bottler in California (and likely some other areas) who still physically put it in the cans and bottles. That's why Coke's own Dr Pepper Copy called "Mr. Pibb" can't be found around here. Not that there aren't a ton of other Dr Pepper Copy sodas (most WITH a . in the name)

Meanwhile, this was "posted by Fizz" 6 hours and 23 comments ago and nobody has said "eponysterical"?

Well, Eponysterical.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:16 PM on April 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

I drank a lot of cola (including the generic Kroger "cola") growing up, and to be sure:

RC > Pepsi > Coke.

Just don't drink Coke. Don't do it.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:45 PM on April 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I drank massive amounts of soda as a kid, including 3 12oz glass bottles of Coke sitting at the dining room table doing my homework from 5 to 7AM every weekday morning before breakfast, and then lots more during the day of any kind of soda I could get hold of. It really did not occur to me until I got to college that there was anything out of the ordinary about that.

I made a point of trying every kind of soda I could find in Colorado Springs and then Denver, including RC Cola; I thought it lacked the bite of other colas, but it was the only one which had that wonderful overtone of burned sugar -- it tasted like toasted marshmallows to me, in fact.

I didn't care whatsoever about avoiding sugar, but I did develop a taste for diet Fresca, which was sitting around in the fridge because my mother drank it. It was sweetened with cyclamates in those days, and we both drank a lot of it -- and she did die of bladder cancer when I was 21.
posted by jamjam at 11:14 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've long since reached the point that drinking one world place me in a diabetic coma, but as a lad in Connecticut in the 70's, RC was the cola of choice in the stately Michaels manor. My mom was from Tennessee and my dad has a fetish for all things southern so I suppose that explains it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:59 AM on April 17, 2016

The most surprising taste of home in Dushanbe, Tajikistan was seeing RC Cola in every shop.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Diet Dr Pepper is one of the few diet sodas that actually tastes damn good. Diet Coke you can build an affinity for but Diet Dr Pepper is really tasty.

The store-brand knock-offs aren't bad, either. Diet Dr. Thunder tastes more like regular Dr. Thunder.
posted by logicpunk at 4:11 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think my favourite thing in the world is a half-finished can of Dr. Pepper that has been left in the fridge overnight and turned flat. There's something wonderful about the taste combined with pizza for breakfast.
posted by Fizz at 4:54 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

CTRL F Archie Bunker.

posted by bricksNmortar at 5:51 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had a job interview at Delta State University several years back. They had an RC Cola sign connected to their main University entrance sign. It's a tradition there (Scroll all the way down.) When they took me to lunch everyone bad RC with their lunch. All very Twilight Zone to me. And I'm not a snob, I've bout that product.

One of my favorite Onion's:
RC Cola Celebrates 10th Purchase

I'm going to read this article.
posted by PHINC at 6:29 AM on April 17, 2016

After clicking through to the Delta State link I now have new favorite college mascot.

Fear the Okra!
posted by COD at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

And let's not forget this classic combination.
posted by Pliskie at 8:01 AM on April 17, 2016

Good article, and I'm glad to see so many RC Cola fans here—I used to prefer it to Coke and Pepsi, back when I drank colas. And man, I'd forgotten all about Diet Rite!
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on April 17, 2016

RC Cola was what my grandpa had in his cellar, in IL. So good. That and homemade lemonade, fresh corn on the cob & A&W root beer = the sustenance of so many great summers.
posted by chavenet at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

We had a Long John Silvers that died and was reborn as a pasta and burger restaurant called Jesters. The food sucked but they served RC Cola on tap and in bottles. I must have eaten there twice a month for lunch unti they turned into a Brazillian take out place.
posted by tilde at 11:16 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remember Sports Illustrated calling someone who had just won their third Bronze metal in a row "the RC Cola of the Olympics" and thinking that was just the greatest.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:36 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I will associate RC Cola & Double Cola with my childhood forever. At least they still sell RC. Double Cola is damn hard to find :(
posted by symbioid at 6:40 PM on April 17, 2016

No kidding, after reading this article, I went to sleep last night and had a dream where I bought RC filled Pocky Candy out of a vending machine and, even though I'm diabetic and knew I shouldn't, I ate it all. I dipped it in a rich sauce of RC Cola and chocolate.

The good news is when I tested my blood this morning, the sugar level wasn't especially high, so I know that my brain was just fucking with me.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:53 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

My dad used to tell me that when RC Cola started, the company would buy what was at the bottom of te barrel from Coke and Pepsi and mix it together. He also said he wrote to Ivory Soap and asked them what 99 44/100% pure meant and they said it was a marketing gimmick. I'm not sure what to make of this, and come Tuesday he'll be gone eight years...
posted by AJaffe at 8:38 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

This has just made me remember how much I liked Like Cola as a kid, if we're talking about obscure sodas.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:51 PM on April 17, 2016

My Dad used to tell me that the tap room was where he went to practice tap dancing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:56 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like RC at least as much as Coke and way more than Pepsi, but I also like to laugh at jokes at their expense, so much for loyalty.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:10 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

While we're all at it, Rock & Rye beats the shit out of all those colas, the Dr., the Mr., and the Skipper. (I can't fathom how neither Rock & Rye nor The Skipper have been mentioned yet ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 7:21 AM on April 18, 2016

I grew up in the South, and while Coke was our preferred drink, RC wasn't too far behind.

Now, in Arizona, I only run into it at an occasional local restaurant, who I had assumed have it because they get it for a good price, but one of them is a Chicago pizza place. I never knew about that connection before.
posted by Four Ds at 8:38 AM on April 18, 2016

All these years, and I thought Radar drank Grape Knee-Highs.

Things you learn...
posted by Devonian at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Man, I love RC cola. It's got a little more vanilla than the others which is why the bite isn't so harsh.
posted by KingBoogly at 1:46 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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