North Carolina’s iconic, family-owned Cheerwine turns 100 years old this year. Visit Salisbury, NC and meet the Ritchie family, who has both fourth and fifth generations working in the family Cheerwine business. Originating during WWI at the time of a sugar shortage, the cherry-flavored fizzy drink is now a part of North Carolina and Southern culture, and stays true to its roots.
Joy Ritchie-Harper, Marketing Director and Fifth Generation Family Member at Cheerwine
It’s amazing to hear how much Cheerwine means to other people. It’s an important part of my family, but it’s an important part to a lot of other families in North Carolina.
When people think of Cheerwine, they may think of that sweet cherry-flavor, family and friends, or maybe even barbecue. The brand that has come to be synonymous with many Southern things started 100 years ago, with humble beginnings in Salisbury, NC, where the brand headquarters are still located today.
“My great grandfather started the brand. You have to think he’d be pleased with how we have run business,” said Cliff Ritchie, president and CEO of Carolina Beverage Corp. and Cheerwine Bottling Co. He’s guiding his family’s fifth generation in the business.
Today, Cheerwine is an icon, but when Ritchie’s great grandfather L.D. Peeler started out in the soda business, it wasn’t all sweet success at first.
Over a decade ago, Peeler entered the soft drink market with a brand called Mint Cola. Then WWI started, bringing with it a sugar shortage, which put the Mint Cola company in bankruptcy.
“It was either reinvent yourself, or get out of business,” said Ritchie.
So Peeler began experimenting with different flavors for sweetness that he could substitute for sugar.
“Through all the experimentation they came up with a formula for Cheerwine,” Ritchie said. “They named it Cheerwine because of its burgundy red color like wine, and its effervescent, fizzy character that’s cheerful.”
The recipe for success found in the formula of Cheerwine is one to which few are privy. Even Ritchie’s daughter Joy Ritchie-Harper, a fifth generation family member, and marketing director at Cheerwine, doesn’t know the recipe. But her dad said she will one day.
A part of the present day Cheerwine brand, Ritchie-Harper sees all that it has come to mean to the people of North Carolina and beyond.
“Cheerwine has come to be a part of North Carolina and Southern culture and it does reflect home for a lot of people, and that’s a special thing to be a part of,” said Ritchie-Harper.
In celebration of its 100-year anniversary, the Rowan Museum in Salisbury is having a year-long exhibit of 100 Years of Cheerwine. The items include antique bottles, packaging and historic artifacts.
The evolution of the brand can be seen in the exhibit, and also the depth of the its tradition and cultural value.
“It’s amazing to hear how much Cheerwine means to other people. It’s an important part of my family but it’s an important part to a lot of other families in North Carolina,” said Ritchie-Harper.
Cliff Ritchie looks on to the next 100 years.
“I am very confident that Cheerwine will be here for the 200th anniversary.”
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