Polar Beverages Legacy and Innovation Success
Ralph Crowley doesn’t have any idea what a unicorn kiss is, but he’s hoping it tastes something like success.
As the chief executive of Polar Beverages, the 134-year-old bottling company in Worcester, he’s spent the past decade watching as consumer tastes have shifted from syrupy sodas to lighter, calorie-free carbonated drinks. Americans’ newfound obsession with seltzer has led to unprecedented growth for Polar, five generations after it was founded by the Crowley family.
It’s also led to something stranger: cachet. When Polar unveils new flavors several times a year, its devotees swarm grocery stores and post pictures of themselves cradling armfuls of bottles using the hashtag #blessed.
A limited edition bottling of a mystery flavored “Unicorn Kisses” this spring sparked a social media frenzy. One-liter bottles of the conconction are now listed on eBay for as much as $100.
All that buzz is a bit bewildering for Crowley, 65, who jokes that Polar is an overnight success, more than a century in the making.
But as he looks over sprawling factory complex from a conference room atop the company headquarters, he also worries. Bubbles have been good to him, but sometimes they burst.
“We’ve never grown so fast, we’ve never been in a better position, and I’ve never been so scared,” he said.
Polar had $450 million in annual sales last year, up from $275 million a decade earlier,and employs 1,700 people at plants in Worcester, upstate New York, and Georgia. But as it seeks to push farther down the Eastern Seaboard and out to the West Coast, it faces a increasingly crowded market. In the past five years, beverage giant Coca-Cola Co. released six new seltzers, and Pepsi Inc. has launched three, and the rise of niche brands such as Florida-based LaCroix has turned heads in the industry.
Much of Polar’s success hinges on whether the company can find a place for its puckish message in an increasingly crowded beverage case.
Article by: Janelle Nanos of The Globe Staff
Appearing on: The Boston Globe Website on July 25, 2016