How Hillary Hooch and Trump Tonic are saving this 112-year-old soda business

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Hillary Hooch and Trump Tonic are saving this 112-year-old soda business

If you were a soda, what flavor would you be?

It may not be a common question at the presidential debates, but one Connecticut soda maker is putting it to a popular vote (Hillary Hooch or Trump Tonic?) and sales are bubbling over.

For the third election cycle in a row, Avery's Beverages, a 112-year-old soda maker in New Britain, Connecticut, has introduced new flavors that represent presumptive candidates for president. Trump Tonic--a grape soda with the tagline "Make America Grape Again"--has an added acidity, in a nod to Trump's often caustic rhetoric. Hillary Hooch is a berry soda--a combination of raspberry, strawberry, and a hint of sour lemon--but its exact ingredients are "classified," says Avery's operations manager Will Dunn.

Presidential sodas, along with a few other new products, have been a nice financial boost for what used to be a lagging piece of Avery's business, Dunn says. Before current general manager Rob Metz took over, the company offered only a few basic flavors, like cola and ginger ale. Five-gallon bottled water deliveries dominated sales, and there was talk of dropping the soda business altogether.

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But in 2008, the company decided to have a little fun with the election by introducing Barack O'Berry and John McCream. Then the 2012 election inspired Crème De Mitt. The flavors were so popular, Dunn says, that Avery's started creating sodas for other news events. Linda's Smackdown Soda and Dick's Blue Menthol sold during Connecticut's 2010 senate race between Democrat Dick Blumenthal and Republican Linda McMahon. When Osama Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in 2011, Avery's sold a blood orange soda called So Long Osama. And the New England Patriots "Deflategate" scandal inspired Deflated Ball Brew.

It's not hard to see why Avery's keeps doing this. This month, Dunn says, sales from presidential sodas boosted company revenue by 30 to 35 percent.

"Totally gross" sodas also helped save Avery's bubbly beverages. Flavors like Monster Mucus and Bug Barf ("They're SODAsgusting!" according to the website) are created by kids during Make Your Own Soda tours on Saturdays at the red barn. Swamp Juice, the original gross soda, is a mix of all the fruits. "It looks like bog water, but tastes like Skittles," says Dunn.

Dunn says inquiries about presidential sodas start in January of election years, and as soon as Avery's announces the launch, orders start flying in, especially from vendors like regional grocer Stew Leonard's. (Local sales for Trump Tonic have been slightly higher than Hillary Hooch, but Dunn says national orders have Trump Tonic winning by a landslide.) Keeping up with demand can be challenging for the small plant, which bottles all soda and water onsite in a red barn from the 1880s. Its bottling equipment is 60 years old and Dunn says, though it works just fine, they produce about as much in one day as Coca-Cola does in an hour. "But we have no desire to modernize," Dunn says. "Nostalgia and quality, natural ingredients--that's what's important to us."

This year the presidential sodas are more popular than ever. "In the words of Donald Trump, 'This one is going to be huge,'" Dunn says.

As you might guess, the company ran out of Trump Tonic on Monday, the first day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Dunn thinks people are so fed up with the political shenanigans that they need some comic relief.

But when asked whether he prefers Hillary Hooch or Trump Tonic, Dunn says neither. Like many people this year, he thinks neither option is quite right. That's why Avery's is also offering a soda with a blank label, letting customers write in another option. Thus far, nominations have ranged from Bernie Sanders to Libertarian Gary Johnson to TV's boy genius Jimmy Neutron.

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