For brands with a rich history, the challenge often is to find fresh ways to stay relevant to new generations of consumers. “We don’t want to be the boring companyC&C Cola that everybody’s parents remember from the ’70s; we want to be the younger company that kids are looking at our new graphics and saying, ‘All right, that’s fresher; that’s something I relate to,’” says Jesse Kelner, vice president of C&C Cola, Cranford, N.J.

Growing a brand that was founded in Belfast, Ireland, in 1852, the company has launched product line extensions, new labels, a new website, new partnerships and a new distribution channel since Mitchell Kelner, owner of Kelco Industries, Cranford, N.J., acquired the brand in the late 1990s.

“The last few years have really been focused on that concept of building the brand in order to compete with the remaining regional brands across the country,” he says.

Growing from 10 original flavors, C&C Cola currently produces and distributes nearly 30 varieties of carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) in four different categories: Traditional, Tropical, Fruity Flavors and Novelty Flavors. The Novelty Flavors category includes Cotton Candy, Red Candy Apple and Green Apple varieties among others. As a healthier option, it also offers 13 varieties of non-carbonated juice drinks, which recently expanded to include Sweet Tea, Green Tea, Mango and Citrus Punch varieties, Kelner says. 

“The juice drinks are our kind of foray into something that’s not carbonated soft drinks,” Kelner says. “The idea was to provide something that had lower sugar, that had a percentage of real juice in it … and to try to give not only our consumers a different choice but then to give our distributors another line of products to sell.”

In addition to updating its product lineup, C&C Cola continues to offer fresh features with an updated look for its beverages. C&C launched its newer products with labels that highlighted their novel and exciting attributes, but many of the original products within the portfolio were stuck with their old labels, Kelner says. As part of the company’s brand-building initiative, the company took a look at those original flavors and gave them a makeover to match the line extensions and give the brand a unified look, he says. Most of the varieties now sport labels with vibrant colors and graphics highlighting the flavors inside the bottle and the brand’s fun personality, he adds. However, for the Ginger Ale and Cola varieties, the company decided to go with a retro look to represent the unchanged product formulas from the 1950s. “They have this ‘50s look that is a throwback to our ‘50s design, but it’s definitely more updated,” Kelner says.

C&C released the new labels at the annual National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in October 2012 and began converting the new labels through the distribution system shortly thereafter. Kelner says he expects the changeover to be complete by the end of the first quarter of 2013.

“I’m getting calls from all of our distributors [saying] that they are loving every minute of it, because it’s just making the entire line jump out of the box,” Kelner says. “And that’s what they want. Some of these guys do pallet displays in their cash and carries, and they want the product to pop even to the store owners when they’re walking through looking for something new.”

To further extend this unified brand image, the company also launched in time for NACS 2012 an updated website to better suit the needs of its distributors and consumers. The new, mobile-device-compatible site organizes its products into meaningful categories for its distributors so that they can easily identify new products to add to their portfolios, Kelner says. It also includes company history, news and merchandise for consumers.

Kelner credits the opportunity to focus on brand building and brand image to the wide recognition its distributors have helped to create. Through partnerships with national cash and carry chains, C&C Cola gained national exposure in retail stores across the country, Kelner says. When Polar Beverages, Worcester, Mass., opened a new plant in Fitzgerald, Ga., C&C also pitched to them a distribution deal to put more business through the plant and garner more exposure for C&C’s label, he says. “When they’re going to pitch Polar Seltzer or another line of products that they’re selling, they kind of carry C&C as that tag-along item,” he explains.

Due to the distribution efforts of C&C Cola, its independent distributors and its corporate partner distributors, the brand now is available in independent grocers and wholesale grocers in the South, Northeast, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, Kelner says.   

 For the dedicated consumers not in those areas, C&C Cola also expanded its distribution efforts onto eBay. “When they get these cravings for Cotton Candy or Red Candy Apple soda, there’s no other company that makes them,” Kelner says. “So, eBay was a perfect venue for us to kind of reach out to those people and make sure that they don’t fall out of touch with stuff like that.”