Thanks to Tom Eblen for his Aug. 25 Business Monday story about the growing popularity of Kentucky's soft drink, Ale-8-One.
As someone who has been following the Kentucky Proud campaign and the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) initiative, it's great to see a company located east of I-75 that is succeeding and growing.
As demonstrated by the success of local craft beers and the farmer's markets, more and more Kentuckians today recognize the importance of supporting locally owned businesses like Ale-8-One.
I love Ale-8-One. I first tried it at Miguel's Pizza in the Red River Gorge 25 years ago. Miguel's is known as the coolest pizza joint in Kentucky, it's an internationally famous destination for rock climbers, and Miguel only sells one kind of soft drink: Ale-8-One, in returnable bottles. So rock climbers from all over the world — all the cool kids — are now drinking it. Miguel's has added a lot to Ale 8's popularity and cachet.
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I visited the Ale 8 One plant in Winchester recently to buy a T-shirt and a ball cap. Driving out Winchester Road from Lexington, I noticed that all of the little country stores along U.S. 60 have signs advertising Ale 8. Some have Ale-8-One vending machines out front.
Yet when I got into town, I noticed that the Winchester McDonald's — located less than one-half mile from the Ale-8-One bottling plant — doesn't sell it. Neither does the Taco Bell.
I also checked the Winchester Burger King and the Wendy's. Both feature a ridiculous drink machine that offers over 100 different flavor combinations of Coca-Cola products, including raspberry-flavored Dasani Water — but no Ale-8-One.
I thought that this was pretty odd. There seems to be a lot of local pride in Ale-8-One, and people in Clark County and Central Kentucky have a strong sense of loyalty to the home team.
It's hard for me to believe that these restaurant franchisees could be so insensitive. Although they are probably bound by some corporate contracts, couldn't they make an exception for a locally-made soft drink that people truly love?
For example, both the KFC and the Pizza Hut located down the street from Ale-8's plant in Winchester sell Ale-8. And the Dairy Queen in Paris went one step further, posting a small Ale-8 sign in the drive through. Good for them.
Papa John's is based in Louisville, but doesn't sell Ale-8. Yum Brands — Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC — is also based in Louisville. I checked around Lexington but I could not find Ale-8-One for sale at any Taco Bell. Why can't these Kentucky-based corporations support our local economy and sell more Kentucky-made products? After all, their employees live here too. Why isn't Ale-8 sold at Kentucky state parks instead of Pepsi? And at the University of Kentucky?
If the SOAR initiative is truly going to succeed, some big corporations are going to have to get on board supporting Kentucky-made products. Hopefully, they will soon realize that supporting the SOAR initiative is smart business.
Look at Alltech's plan to build a new plant in Pikeville. Alltech reaps tons of positive publicity and appears socially conscious and responsible. Alltech founder Pearce Lyons looks like a hero and a genius while other big companies sit around wondering why no one likes them anymore.
The next time you shop at a grocery or convenience store, pay attention to the ways that big corporations like Coke and Pepsi dominate the available space on the store shelves.
It's hard to find an Ale-8-One or a bag of chips that isn't made by some big lumbering out-of-state corporation. They are forever trying to bully the little guy off the shelf.