OBJECT HISTORY: Jolly Good Soda

An advertisement for Krier Foods featuring Jolly Good soda.
An advertisement for Krier Foods featuring Jolly Good soda.

color image of a soda can with red, blue, and white colors

What would a Southeastern Wisconsinite grab on a hot summer day in the 1970s and 80s?  Jolly Good soda of course! This local brand was celebrated as the cornerstone of cookouts, family reunions, and get-togethers.

Made in Random Lake, Wisconsin, this cola flavored can of Jolly Good soda features patriotic colors and a printed joke on the bottom of the can, differentiating Jolly Good from its competitors.  Jolly Good soda was one of many brands of soda produced in Wisconsin during the twentieth century, but, unlike some other soda brands that began during prohibition, Jolly Good soda has its roots in the canned vegetables industry.

 

Listen to the segment on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life:

 

From Sauerkraut to Soda

J.B. Krier, born in Belgium, Wisconsin, created The Krier Preserving Company in 1913. Originally, the plant was built to can beets, peas, sauerkraut, corn and beans, but in 1931, Krier added soups, juices, spinach, carrots and spaghetti to their production line.[1]  Krier Foods opened a second branch in Random Lake in 1935, where it remains today.

Because of Wisconsin’s extreme climate, vegetables are limited to seasonal supply, leaving canning companies with an annual period of slow production. In response, they began making Jolly Good soda to stabilize the company’s employment and revenue throughout the year.[2] During slow periods, Krier Foods could produce soda, and during busy times they could return to canning vegetables.

Soda proved to be a very lucrative business at the same time that national canning brands began to squeeze out small canning companies. Pressured to adapt, Krier Foods began to package cans of soda on a contract basis in the 1960s and in 1970, they launched their own soda line called Jolly Good.[3] By the 1980s, Krier Foods started focusing solely on soda production, developing almost 50 different flavors of Jolly Good by the 1990s. At their peak of production, Jolly Good distributed soda throughout the Midwestern states including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and, of course, Wisconsin. Facing increased competition from Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Krier ended Jolly Good production in 2007..[4]

Jolly Good soda holds a nostalgic place in many Midwestern hearts. An overwhelming resurgence of interest in this local and unique part of Wisconsin History as well as the national success of other Wisconsin-based brands like Sprecher’s, La Croix ,and Klarbrunn, lead Krier Foods to start reproducing and selling eight of their most popular flavors in 2015. The soft launch started in only three locations, but has now expanded to over 5 different grocery store chains, various gas stations in Sheboygan and Ozaukee county as well as online on the Jolly Good website.

As of October 2018, 138,000 12-pack cases of Jolly good have been sold.[5] Now this nostalgic soft drink can be enjoyed by today’s youth as well as parents and grandparents of Southeastern Wisconsin.

A grocery clerk stocking Jolly Good soda.
A Krier Foods salesman stocking Jolly Good soda.

Written by Anastasia Welnetz, March 2019.

Edited by Trase Tracanna, December 2020.


READERS RESPOND

“When I Was a child my dad had a store and purchased Jolly Good pop by the truckload and sold it in Ohio. We even brought home a couple hundred cases and loaded them in our basement and sold them to area neighbors from our back door. Memories.”

Kenny Hansel


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[1] “Krier Company Marks 50 Years in Canning Business,” The Sheboygan Press, October 24, 1963, p. 12.

[2] Marina Affo, “Jolly Good Soda Was Dead. Then a Family Legacy Brought the Wisconsin-Made Drink Back.,” The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan Press, October 17, 2018), https://www.sheboyganpress.com/story/news/2018/10/10/jolly-good-soda-wisconsin-made-fizzy-drinks-rebirth-family-legacy/1345375002/.

[3] Yoffie, David B., and Renee Kim. “Cola Wars Continue: Coke and Pepsi in 2010.” Harvard Business School Case 711-462, December 2010. (Revised May 2011.)

[4]Marina Affo, “Jolly Good Soda Was Dead. Then a Family Legacy Brought the Wisconsin-Made Drink Back.,” The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan Press, October 17, 2018), https://www.sheboyganpress.com/story/news/2018/10/10/jolly-good-soda-wisconsin-made-fizzy-drinks-rebirth-family-legacy/1345375002/.

[5] Ibid

 

Thanks to the Random Lake Historical Society.