Skip to main content

How Many of These Classic 80s Drinks Did You Try?

John Bridges is a published author of history and politics. His doctorate is in criminal justice.

80s sodas and other beverages

80s sodas and other beverages

Drinks From the 80s

During the 80s, many well-established brands began branching out in new ways. Jello found itself creating pudding pops, almonds crept into M&M’s, and many brands tried to create various types of drinks.


Lifesavers Soda: Epic Fail

Lifesavers came in jelly form, mini-form, and finally, in the form of soda. The drink was developed in the 1980s. Those who tried it know it was very tasty. It was a little thicker than other sodas and very sweet. Consumers did not gravitate towards the product. There was a preconceived notion that the soda was nothing more than a liquid version of candy. It remains an iconic product of the 80s and represents the desire of many established companies to accept the risk of expanding into new product lines.

The Pepsi Challenge: Staring Down a Giant

Pepsi has always been a distant second in sales to Coca-Cola. During the 80s, Pepsi felt it could catch up with Coca-Cola sales by catering to the X-Generation, “the Pepsi Generation.” They invested enormous amounts of money to hire superstar Michael Jackson to promote their product. Their commercials were designed to look like music videos that were popular at that time. You may have heard the rumors that the boy dressed like Michael Jackson in the commercial is Alfonso Ribiero (Carlton on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). The rumor is true.

Part of its campaign included the infamous Pepsi Challenge commercials. Although test stations were set up around the country, often with lackluster monitors, those in the commercials were actors. Nonetheless, the campaign was gaining traction. People were discussing the commercials and the product. Pepsi was making slow but steady gains on Coca-Cola’s market. They further promoted their product as the future while Coca-Cola was still focused on the nostalgia of the past.


OK Soda: Don’t Be Fooled

Not everyone was enamored with the Pepsi Challenge. There was a distinct movement away from any corporate products amongst young college students. They gravitated towards products they thought were anti-corporate, hip, and approachable. Enter OK Soda.

Its marketing was unpretentious; the packaging was indicative of it being a counter-culture product. The taste was comparable to Coke or Pepsi. Sales were going well for the young “company,” until the truth came out.

The can itself, had the ironic message, “Don’t Be Fooled.” The reason this is ironic is, OK soda was not a small, hip, young start-up company at all. It was Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola wanted to chip away at Pepsi’s attraction with the younger generation, and thus OK Soda was born.


New Coke v. Classic Coke: The Original Fake News

Coca-Cola was tired of the Pepsi Challenge campaign and needed a way to counter all the talk about Pepsi being a better product. One of the hugest risks ever taken by a company was about to occur. Coca-Cola announced it was going to change its formula to produce a product more like Pepsi.

The public lost its collective minds. Protests were planned. Petitions were sent. Everybody was talking about “new” Coke. After a short time, the company claimed to be responding to the public demand for the original Coca-Cola, which was returned and labeled as “Classic Coke.” They suggested that they were going to let the public decide which product was better. People took sides, and everyone was talking about the two Coca-Colas. What nobody was talking about anymore: Pepsi. This was the true purpose of this campaign. Coke had no intention of changing its formula, in fact as far as anyone knows, “New” Coke and “Classic” Coke may have been the exact same product.


Jolt: Before There Were Wings

Jolt Cola is a carbonated soft drink originally produced by The Jolt Company, of Rochester, NY. Initially, its distribution was in the Northeast. While other sodas were scrambling to remove sugar and caffeine, Jolt Soda found its niche market and promoted its product by boldly stating it had all the sugar and twice the caffeine. It was the first “energy” drink created and was targeted towards students and young professionals, stressing its use as a stimulant in a manner similar to today's energy drinks.

The quality of the product slipped as it became manufactured in a larger factory, new recipe, and national distribution. Competition from multiple true energy drinks heavily impacted sales. As shown in the picture, the original Jolt Cola came in a brown bottle, and many college students were pulled over by police suspecting they were drinking and driving. After many complaints, the company changed the bottle.

Bartle’s and Jaymes Wine Coolers, One and Only

This product used only quality ingredients. Wine, seltzer, and juices. The company prided itself on quality, and customers loved the product even though it sold at a premium price. Delicious as it was, it also packed a surprising punch. Other companies tried to emulate the product but did not match the quality. Those companies were focused on profiting by using malt liquor instead of quality wine. While they were able to compete by substantially cutting the cost of the product, it was not the same as the original. When wine products were hit by a major tax (but not malt liquor), Bartle’s and Jaymes had to choose between compromising the quality of their product or doubling the cost of the product. They chose to keep the integrity they built the company on and closed their doors.


Do You Really Miss Piña Colada?

The power of the media is amazing. Even if you do not like the Piña Colada song, the drink became a sensation in bars across America during the 80s. Blended drinks became the norm. Rum companies benefitted greatly by the boom as they diversified their product lines to include flavored rums. Smaller companies began competing with the giant Bacardi.

The craze spilled over into other products, from soft drinks to candy to muffins.

© 2018 Dr John Bridges