Meet Me in the Land of Grapico
Hall-of-Fame songwriter Peter De Rose was still a teenager when he and Ivan Reid were approached by the New Orleans firm of J. Grossman’s Sons to rhapsodize their grape-flavored soft drink in the maudlin style of Tin Pan Alley. The result was “Meet Me in the Land of Grapico”, sheet music for which was mailed free of charge to anyone who wrote to the company requesting it.
Whether helped along by its official love ballad or not, the drink spread in popularity throughout the lower South even before national prohibition thrust the soft drink industry into the limelight. By 1920 J. Grossman’s Sons was selling syrup wholesale to bottlers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. Local businessman R. R. Rochell opened the Grapico Bottling Works in Birmingham in 1917 and was one of the largest distributors, taking over sales to Florida in 1922 and Mississippi in 1925.
Rochell, an uneducated but successful businessman, profited from the drink’s popularity. He had some troubles with a malfunctioning bottle capper which periodically showered broken glass and sticky soda onto workers
Pan American Manufacturing acquired the formula and rights to Grapico from Grossman’s in 1926 and continued marketing their products with pictures of clustered grapes and phrases such as “naturally good” that implied that the artificially flavored and colored product was something it was not. The Federal Trade Commission got involved and, in 1928, Pan American was stripped of its right to use the Grapico trade mark. Rochell became the beneficiary and was soon the sole supplier of Grapico throughout the South. He applied for and received a federal trade mark for Grapico just before his death in 1940.
Business chugged along smoothly through the post-war years, alternately including Orange Crush, Seven-Up and other beverages in distribution. A 1950s attempt to market a newly-developed “Orangico” beverage was not fruitful. In 1981 the rights to Grapico were acquired by the hometown rival Buffalo Rock Company. The drink is currently cooked up by Buffalo Rock’s “Sun Fresh Beverages” facility in Columbus, Georgia and packaged and distributed from its various bottling locations.
In 1988 Buffalo Rock revamped Grapico’s packaging with all-purple labeling and expanded distribution back to areas of the Southeast that had dropped off over the years and expanding into new territory in South Carolina. A diet version was introduced in 2005.
Just this month Birmingham’s O2 Ideas created a new brand identity featuring “Southern block script”, a stylized cluster of grapes and the return of the “naturally good” tag line. The Federal Trade Commission can assume that buyers looking for real grape juice can refer to the printed list of ingredients: carbonated water, sugar and/or corn sweeteners, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate (as a preservative), artificial flavor, artificial color (red #40, blue #1).
Many considered Grapico to be the perfect drink to wash down a “special all the way” from Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs. Now that long-time proprietor Gus Koutroulakis has departed, we can hope that he’s found peace “‘neath a quaint arbor vine” in the “dear land of Grapico”.