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The Return of Returnable Soda Pop Bottles in Minnesota


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Photo courtesy of Whistler Bottling

Many of us remember a time when soda pop was a special treat. The small, returnable bottles filled with flavors like cream and cherry cola were doled out for picnics or birthdays, and usually we had to share. Today, 20 oz. bottles of pop are a common sight and consumption is at 165 liters per capita in the United States, according to market research firm Euromonitor.

On the heels of recent news about potential container deposit fees in Minnesota for plastic and aluminum cans, a small company in Minnesota is attempting to return to a time when soda pop was sold in small, returnable bottles, and was made with simple ingredients.

Whistler Bottling is on a mission to bring returnable soda pop bottles back to Minnesota. Jesse Hopkins, an assistant principal at a local middle school, leads the Whistler Bottling team, along with a team comprised of other educators, which he says is one of the unique things about Whistler. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids.

“We know soda pop is not health food, but if kids are going to drink pop, our returnable bottles are 8 ounces, which makes it easier for parents to control the amount of pop that kids are drinking,” said Hopkins. "We are also currently working on a partnership with three metro school districts and a major local grocer to help schools raise funds for programs that serve at risk students, support teachers in the classroom, and provide families with financial difficulties opportunities for participation in sports and band.”

Hopkins said the Whistler concept is built around trying to make a difference and explained how they plan to use simple ingredients and smaller bottles to help reduce the use of plastic bottles. Their returnable glass bottles are designed to last 40 years and can be refilled as many times as needed.

Hopkins took time to visit plants in Wisconsin that are still using returnable bottles like Twig’s (makers of returnable Sun-Drop) and Flavor 8. There, he learned about the returnable bottling business. He learned that a fresher product that is made and delivered locally simply tastes better.

While those businesses helped them learn about the returnable bottle trade, Whistler looked to the former Gold Medal Beverage Co. of St. Paul, MN for flavor inspiration.

“In our research, looking into soda companies, Gold Medal was around for a long time and we wanted to tip our cap to them and the brand they had established,” said Hopkins. “We wanted to offer some of the same, classic flavors as they did.”

Whistler plans to offer six flavors, including black cherry, grape, cherry vanilla cola, root beer, fruit punch, and cream, using ingredients like triple filtered water, pure cane sugar, and old fashioned flavor extracts.

“For us, it was really important to commit to the most basic, simple ingredients as possible,” said Hopkins. “No energy enhancing chemicals, no high fructose corn syrup, and no extra preservatives.”

As for retail locations, Hopkins says the interest “has been off the charts.” They’re looking at supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, and specialty shops for selling their product.

Whistler is about ready to launch. They have flavor recipes, a returnable bottle design, and a bottle washer/sanitizer, but they still need to purchase 80,000 bottles and bottle filler.

“Right now, we’re at the point where we’re about ready to launch,” said Hopkins. “We plan to be up and running by January, but it’s just a matter of purchasing the bottles we need.”

And that’s where their Kickstarter campaign comes in. Hopkins says the sole purpose of their Kickstarter is to make their first bottle buy. It’s the biggest financial investment and the next big step.

“We hope people will be inspired by our work, and want to support our bottle purchase.”

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