In The Late 1970’s And Early 1980’s, Anheuser-Busch Made Two Test Runs At Marketing Soft Drink Products. 

All of us at G&M are very familiar with Anheuser-Busch beer products, but did you know that in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, AB made two test runs at marketing soft drink products. The first product was a carbonated beverage called Chelsea, released sometime in 1978. What was unique about the product is that it contained a slight amount of alcohol (0.5%) and was 100% naturally flavored. It also contained about 1/3 fewer calories than the average soft drink. It was allowed to be sold to minors as the alcohol content was deemed insignificant by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The flavor was much like ginger ale but with a slight beer aftertaste. The ingredients included lemon and lime juice, apple flavor, and ginger. It was marketed as the “not so soft drink.” A big problem was that, besides the alcohol, the product looked like beer and even sported a slight head. This inflamed the anti-alcohol groups that claimed AB was trying to lure young teens into an appetite for beer and alcohol products. AB countered that the alcohol was merely a by- product of the “natural process” and that it was not in any way an alcoholic beverage. Under constant pressure, AB reformulated the product without alcohol, changed the bottle glass color from clear to green, and de-emphasized the Anheuser-Busch name on the label. However, the damage was done and AB removed all product from the test market area after a short time period. In 1980, AB took a second shot at the soft drink business with a caffeinated root beer called Root 66 in regular and sugar free varieties. It was test marketed in Columbus, Denver, Peoria, Sacramento, and Sioux Falls, Iowa. This time, AB downplayed the Anheuser-Busch name on the label but sales were far from expectations. After less than two years, AB decided to stay in the business they knew best, and Root 66 disappeared from the shelves forever by late 1981. As collectibles, neither of the brand’s cans or bottles are particularly rare, but I would say the Chelsea items are much more available than Root 66 stuff. As for tasting them, I never had Chelsea but do remember drinking a Root 66 in college. I don’t remember it being anything special which is probably why it didn’t make it.

-Brent, General Sales Manager

Posted in Anheuser-Busch | 2 Comments

2 Responses to In The Late 1970’s And Early 1980’s, Anheuser-Busch Made Two Test Runs At Marketing Soft Drink Products. 

  1. John says:

    I remember Route 66 hitting the shelves in my hometown, but it was not remarkable. I think what caused it’s real downfall was because the label design made you think it might be something akin to Dr. Pepper and it was nothing at all like it, plus there already was a carbonated root beer on the market, Barqs. I think the other thing working against Route 66 was that Coca-Cola, the distributor for Barqs in most areas, had only a few prior released the Dr. Pepper competitor, but no substitute, Mr. Pibb. Mr. Pibb was, and still is, bing foisted on the public through huge discount deals being offered to merchants to replace Dr. Pepper with it in their fountains. Mr. Pibb’s flavor was somewhere in-between Dr. Pepper and a root beer. It was gaining acceptance and poor Route 66 got lost in that battle.

    I do remember chelsea. I was in eighth grade and fell in love with the stuff. I remember Anheuser Busch claiming in newspaper articles that a bottle of Chelsea actually had less alcohol in it than a loaf of bread does. At 13 years old it was the closest I was going to get to beer. I must have stopped at a convenience store to purchase a bottle every day on my walk home from school, until it disappeared. It is rather funny that the mom’s groups who were also the same ones who convinced my mother to replace our frosted flakes with unsweetened Cheerios because of the excessive amount of sugar (to which my brothers and I probably put more sugar on each bowl of Cheerios than was even found in a complete box of frosted flakes) were the ones leading the charge claiming that AB was trying to create a guaranteed market of beer drinkers when we turned 21. Funny thing is I really didn’t start drinking and appreciating beer until I was in my thirties and shortly after I turned 21 the non-alcoholic beer, which is here to stay, craze hit (and note in most states it too can be sold to minors) and it actually tastes like beer, sans the outcry because it is touted as an alcoholic’s alternative and the drink of choice for designated drivers (which appeals to MADD of which most of those mom’s that protested against Chelsea are members).

    I wish they would bring Chelsea back. My kids would love having something to drink with me, that is similar to beer but tastes better to their pallets, when I enjoy a cold beer on a hot summer day. It would provide one more way for me and my kids to connect and socialize about their day. Sure, any soda could fill the bill, but it would be more attractive to them if they had something that kind of tasted like beer and held a head like beer does too.

  2. John says:

    Sorry, I meant caffeinated root beer, not carbonated.