December 18, 2001
- Fresno Bee Business Section:
Shegerian launched the sale of Bulldog Root Beer at Longs Drug Store in Fig Garden Village last week. The store sold at least five cases of the root beer in four days just from walk-through traffic, store manager Chuck Iknoian said.
Shegerian, owner of Bulldog Brewing Co. at Fig Garden Village, plans to market the beverage exclusively at the nearby Longs for 60 days then release the drink to Fresno-based Donaghy Sales for wider distribution in Fresno and Madera counties. Donaghy supplies beverages to 2,000 retail outlets in the region.
Ryan Donaghy of Donaghy Sales hopes he can sell up to 10,000 cases of Shegerian's brew. A case contains four six-packs.
"This segment of the market is really growing," Donaghy said.
Over the past several years, "gourmet sodas" have grown in popularity as grocery stores and other outlets stock drinks by companies such as Jones Soda, Monterey Soda Co. and Stewart's.
Root beer remains a consumer favorite. A Web site for root beer lovers -- RootBeerWorld.com -- boasts a link that guides users to 500 root beers across the country.
Root beer has gained popularity during the past decade, with its market share rising from 2.4% in 1990 to 3.3% last year, according to John Sicher, editor and publisher of the New York-based Beverage Digest.
Shegerian believes Americans are nostalgic for root beer, in part because it takes them back to the days of sipping frosty mugs frothing with foamy root beer. It's the way Shegerian serves it at his restaurant.
"It is a real connection to the past, and people want that," he said. "Root beer is a real comfort drink."
Beverage analysts say regional brewers use distinctive packaging, unique labels and a one-of-a-kind taste to carve out their niche in the $60 billion-a-year carbonated soft drink business.
"It's a complicated business and having a great product is only a small part of selling your product," Sicher said.
Shegerian's well aware of what it will take to sell his brew. He has pumped $50,000 into his quest to develop a product with regional and potentially national appeal.
The bottle's label features the restaurant's beloved mascots, Barley and Hops, plus the slogan, "Unleash the Taste," coined by Shegerian's 15-year-old daughter, Cortney. The cardboard bottle holder also bestows thanks to Fresno State's Sid Craig School of Business Entrepreneurial Program for its help in launching the venture. A portion of the root beer's proceeds will be donated to the program. Shegerian said it took at least eight months for him, master brewer Teri Fahrendorf and taste tasters to come up with the right combination of ingredients. Among the choice items in Bulldog Root Beer are pure vanilla and California honey.
Although the price for the root beer will vary at other retail outlets, it sells for $4.99 a six-pack at Longs.
For the short term, Shegerian wants to build the root beer's name locally before attempting to launch it elsewhere. He may find a natural fit in other markets and communities where bulldogs are also a team mascot.
"We have a product that has some real legs," Shegerian said.
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or 441-6327.
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