From a humble beginning at a soda fountain in Waco, Texas, Dr Pepper has grown into one of the most popular and recognizable beverage brands in the country. As Dr Pepper celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, I was reminded how even the biggest of brands started small.

In his first State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of small businesses in America. No matter which side of the spectrum you align yourself with, it’s hard to disagree that small businesses are an integral part of the American economy, including the beverage industry. During this economic recession in particular, it’s encouraging to see smaller beverage companies that are performing well.

While the downturn is long from over, many categories and companies are showing signs of a turnaround. Reports show that craft beer posted increases last year. Companies such as New Leaf Brands, which is profiled in the Up Close With section on page 36, are positioning themselves for expansion.

This month’s cover story, Lifeway Foods, also posted impressive gains in 2009. The Morton Grove, Ill.-based company continued to grow the burgeoning kefir category, acquired a competitor and expanded its retail foodservice concept last year. (Read more about Lifeway and its sibling leaders, Julie and Edward Smolyansky, on page 26.)

Every day Beverage Industry receives press releases from companies that have developed a new product, expanded their distribution or announced an innovative marketing campaign. For me, it’s exciting to watch fledgling brands shape themselves into consumer darlings and, eventually, industry powerhouses.