When Patti Stimpfl was growing up in Whitehall during the 1970s, her family owned Al’s Market in the township, and that meant a steady supply of A-Treat soda.
“We had A-treat all of the time. I’m very nostalgic about it,” she said. “We always felt better about it. It seemed healthier; it was local and more natural.”
Stimpfl’s is a common story that could be told by many families who enjoyed the soda and its lower cost compared to name brands such as Coke and Pepsi. In its heyday, A-Treat was popular not just in the Lehigh Valley but throughout the Northeast corridor, including New York City.
But A-Treat nearly died three years ago, surviving only through the resources and savvy of a new owner, the Jaindl Companies of Orefield, another well-known name in the Lehigh Valley.
But rebound it did, and this year A-Treat celebrates its 100th anniversary and a new era under Jaindl. The soda brand boasts 18 flavors – some iconic such as cream soda and birch beer – sold in limited distribution outlets throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey and available online.
Yes, A-Treat is not only celebrating its history but a new life.
“It’s a feeling of happiness, helping to save a brand that has impacted so many lives,” said Luke Jaindl, general manager of the A-Treat Bottling Co.
THE DAY THE SODA DIED
A-Treat was founded in 1918 by brothers Jack and Joseph Egizio in their family’s Allentown garage.
The company opened a manufacturing plant in 1932 on Union Boulevard in the city, where it produced as many as 25 varieties and grew to become a strong regional brand and also was available in pockets throughout the country.
But A-Treat fell on hard times in the last decade or so, and its plant was abruptly shuttered in January 2015.
Then-owner Thomas Garvey cited financial reasons for its closure – most likely a result of lagging sales and outdated equipment.
For a while, it looked like Allentown’s hometown soda would be no more.
BAD DAY IN SOFT DRINK ANNALS
Faust Capobianco, who grew up in Roseto, is a lifelong fan of the A-Treat brand and remembers well that day in 2015.
“The news spread like wildfire through my family,” he said. “It was one of the worst days in soft drink history.”
All of his family members were fans, and every picnic or family event meant cases of A-treat for everyone. It wasn’t just their beverage of choice, it was their only beverage of choice.
“My first thought was that I would never get to drink soda again, because I don’t like Coke or Pepsi,” Capobianco said.
RUSH TO BUY
Capobianco immediately went out to buy all of the remaining A-Treat sodas that he could, as many fans did.
“I remember getting to Redner’s and it was already cleared out of a lot of the flavors that same day,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
In the ensuing weeks, about 20 prospective buyers emerged for the A-Treat brand, with Allentown businessman Paul Eifler briefly obtaining an agreement of sale, but when that didn’t go through, prospects for the brand again began to look grim.
TO THE RESCUE
Then the good news. The Jaindl family, which runs a large turkey farm in Orefield, and land development and real estate operations, was going to take over the brand.
It had the knowledge of the food industry, the network of distributors and the finances to make it work.
The Jaindl Companies bought the soda brand name, trademark, flavor formulas and related intellectual property and began the work to bring the brand back to its glory days.
FOR THE FANS
Jaindl used social media to poll its fans on what they wanted as far as flavors and styles and listened to the audience to ensure it was properly bottling people’s memories, along with the soda.
At the time, David Jaindl, patriarch of the Jaindl family, said that while he saw buying the brand as a good business opportunity, the nostalgia for the soda was a big part of his decision to get into the soda game.
“I’m a fan,” he said. “My mother has been drinking A-Treat for 80 years and she’s never felt better, so we think it’s a good thing.”
THE BIG RETURN
After re-creating the recipes and labels and contracting with the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant of the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem to bottle the soda, the Jaindl Co. relaunched A-Treat at a massive party at its Orefield headquarters in August 2015.
Fans could taste A-Treat’s reincarnation before the bottles and cans hit the store shelves in September.
Thousands of people showed up, including hometown celebrities such as Easton boxing great Larry Holmes.
It was clear the soda was getting a warm welcome back from soda drinkers from throughout the region.
Sales of the soda were strong right out of the gate. After being out of production for about eight months, there was a pent-up demand and a grateful public excited to once again sip on its favorite A-Treat flavors.
The Jaindls gradually increased their offerings both in flavors and in containers. The soda can now be bought in cans, 2-liter bottles, 20-ounce bottles and certain flavors in specialty glass bottles.
Luke Jaindl has his sights set on the next challenge – keeping sales strong now that the initial burst of buying is over.
Although Jaindl declined to give sales figures, he said sales are up.
“They’re in a good place,” he said.
Jaindl noted that the territory is gradually expanding. After getting into the Maryland market, A-Treat is working to establish sales in Florida and Ohio.
His goal is to expand into even more states, and he knows nostalgia won’t help in those new markets.
“We think about what’s going to keep them coming back, and that’s consistency and quality,” he said.
He said the company is marketing the soda as “pure,” made with flavor extracts and sugar cane.
It’s the kind of product that hipper young soda drinkers, always on the lookout for something different, might give a try.
A HIT WITH HIPSTERS?
Jaindl said A-Treat has a leg up with the old-fashioned look of the cans that sets it apart.
“People eat with their eyes for that initial purchase,” he said.
That – and having a lineup of unusual flavors such as orange cream and blue razz, most of which are still produced using formulas that evolved from the Egizios’ original recipes – should make it a good seller at smaller boutique shops that specialize in craft products with interesting stories.
WORTH THE RIDE
And A-Treat certainly has an interesting story, from its humble garage beginnings to its complicated, but ultimately triumphant return.
Even after the Jaindls took over the brand, they had to find another manufacturer when the Coca-Cola plant ceased making beverages last year. The new manufacturer is in the Northeast at a location the Jaindls have declined to disclose.
“It might have been nice without those trials and tribulations, but it wouldn’t be as interesting,” Jaindl said.