Tuesday, July 17, 2012

*302. BOTTLED FRESHNESS: Pampanga's Soda Pop Industry

YUNG MAY PULP BITS SYEMPRE! Thirsty Filipinos take a break at a soda stand with a sip of Royal soft drink. in Mandarin Lemonade flavor. The Kapampangan counterpart was the Reyna softdrink of the Nepomucenos. Later, Royal filed a case against the makers of Reyna for alleged copyright logo infringement. Ca. late 1920s-early 30s.

Pampanga’s Soda Pop Home Industry The pause that refreshes for most Filipinos in the early 1900s meant taking a sip of cool mineral water bottled from such places as Los Baños, Majayjay, Daet and Sibul Springs. Water from Los Baños, already a favorite resort at that time, was loaded with medicinal minerals like magnesium and sulphates and was deemed perfect for cooling and for reinvigorating the body. It was bottled by Isuan, which was to become a leading softdrinks factory in Manila during the peacetime era. Aerated water was also made by pharmacists along Escolta, another precursor of drinkable soda.

The introduction of more appealing soda drinks changed the way Filipinos refreshed themselves. Brands like Coca-Cola (concocted by Georgia pharmacist John S. Pemberton and sold at Jacob’s Drugstore in Atlanta in 1886) and Pepsi-Cola (formulated by Caleb Bradham of North Carolina in 1898) found their way in Philippine homes during the American Period, sold exclusively in café and ice cream parlors like Clarke’s. The invention of the crown cap by William Painter in 1897 further revolutionized the bottling industry. A beverage called “Tan San” was marketed in the Philippines by Clifford Wilkinson in the 1900s, giving us a new term for metal crown caps.

 Soon, Philippine soft drink dealers and makers sprouted all over the country to give imported brands some competition. In the Binondo-Sta. Cruz area, Sosa Street became the center of the softdrink trade, with scores of soda dealers lining the road, offering cool sips like Dry Ginger Ale, Tru-Orange Squeeze, Lemonade, Orangeade, Singapore Sling and Root Beer—all from Isuan Inc., which had established a large plant in Paco. During the Commonwealth years of the Manila Carnival, Isuan came out with a special “carnival”line of flavors: Orange, Strawberry, Grape, Chocolate and Sarsaparilla. By then San Miguel Brewery along Aviles St., was already marketing Royal Softdrinks.

Just before the war, Balintawak became an enclave for many soft drink factories, churning out Dalmar, Ang Bayani, Imperial H Soda, Malayan and Sinukuan Beverages. But brands were also made outside of Manila: New Banahaw (Batangas), Kasikatan (Biñan, Laguna) and Dainty (Manaoag, Pangasinan), Mabuhay (Bataan).

 In Pampanga, soft drink making became a backyard industry for some enterprising Kapampangans. Juan D. Nepomuceno and wife Teresa Gomez of Angeles, already successful with their ice plant and electric power plant business, ventured into soft drinks making with the launch of their Reyna and Aurora brands in 1928. Reyna Softdrinks was available in orange, strawberry, cream soda and sarsaparilla flavors. It came in green bottles imported from Belgium, crown-capped and labelled manually with paper labels by the Nepomuceno househelps and their children. It sold at 5 centavos, even if the customized embossed bottles alone cost 8 pesos to produce!

Despite being a losing business proposition, the soft drink was awarded first prize in the 1933 Pampanga Carnival fair and Exposition. San Miguel Brewery, makers of Royal Tru-Orange later filed a complaint against the Nepomucenos for the logo similarities between “Reyna”and “Royal”, which had similar typefaces, leading to consumer confusion and lost market shares for the brewery brand. The case was settled out-of-court with the re-spelling of “Reyna”into “Reina”, using an adjusted font.

 Aurora, on the other had, was a price brand, sold at 2 centavos each. It was available in the same flavors, with sarsaparilla as the best seller. Both bottled sodas were distributed in Pampanga and Bataan outlets. The business faltered and eventually closed during the War. In Guagua, La Familia Soft Drinks was positioned as a drink perfect for the whole family, and came in green embossed bottles with paper labels. It was another popular drink during the Commonwealth period and was even advertised in local papers.

Today, there is virtually no trace of Pampanga’s soft drink home industry, except for an occasional collectible local bottle and ads on trade papers and vintage dailies. The small-scale business had all been swallowed up by corporate giants like San Miguel, The Coca Cola Bottling Company and Pepsico, which have modern bottling and distribution plants in San Fernando. The resilient Kapampangan however, continues to cool the neighborhood with such alternative refreshments as homemade halo-halo, ice candy, ice buko, gulaman at sago-- true to the soft drink slogan, “Thirst knows no season”.

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