Detroit’s One True Pop: Faygo and the Future of Fizz

Sep 19, 2014

Regional dialects in the United States are a tricky business. Ascertaining how many there are and where the dividing line is between a Western New England accent and a Hudson Valley accent, for instance, is difficult to definitively say. But one thing I know for sure is this: It’s pop, not soda.

Forget the debate over hoagie versus grinder versus sub. Asking for a pop over asking for a soda has the power to reveal not only your regional loyalties, but also whether you’re a happy Coke or Pepsi consumer or a true devotee to taste and refinement.

In other words, it tells us whether or not you know what Faygo is.

Faygo has been making soft drinks in Detroit since 1907, when, Ben and Perry Feigenson, Russian immigrant brothers and bakers by trade, founded Feigenson Brothers Bottling Works with a handful of drinks based on frosting flavors they’d created. Over the years the name was shortened to Faygo, primarily for labeling purposes, and the number of flavors expanded to its current repertoire of 54. From the esoteric—Cotton Candy, Moon Mist, Jazzin’ Bluesberry—to beloved flagship flavors—Rock n’ Rye, Root beer, Orange, Grape—Faygo is renowned throughout not only Michigan, but also the rest of the Upper Midwest.

And its contribution to the English language mustn’t be understated. Faygo established “pop” as legitimate shorthand for a soft drink when it renamed its strawberry flavor Redpop, based on the sound the bottle made when you opened it.

“Faygo is lucky to have extremely loyal consumers. Regardless of the way that they were first introduced to us, they seem to stay with us for a long time and are really dedicated to the brand,” Dawn Burch, Faygo’s brand manager, tells me at their factory on Gratiot Avenue in east Detroit. As we walk the floor of the factory amidst thousands of pallets of empty cans and bottles waiting to be filled, what most interested me was Faygo’s future. As Dawn sees it, the entire pop/soft drink/soda market has a target on its head. “Right now, soft drinks are struggling and are being portrayed as the bad guy, mainly because of sugar content. We listen to what the market is asking for and try to offer something for everyone,” she says. “With cane sugar in our glass bottles, mid-cal offerings, and diet flavors, we try to have a little bit of everything for the consumer to choose from.”

The variety and distinctiveness of Faygo’s 54 flavor offerings sets them apart in a congested soft drink market that’s losing ground to energy drinks. The newest addition to the Faygo family, Cotton Candy, is flying off the shelves. Setting new sales records and rekindling interest from Michigan and Midwest expats who miss the drinks they grew up with.

While Pepsi and Coke combined spend billions of dollars annually on advertising, Faygo is a regional brand that grew up in Detroit and spends, well, not nearly as much. Yet Faygo is finding creative ways to market to its strengths; namely by leveraging nostalgia for the pop Baby boomers adored as kids, while playing up a ‘craft pop’ angle for foodies and cultivating a kitschy, off-kilter brand of humor that resonates with younger fans on social media.

More cost-effective than TV or outdoor, social media allows Faygo to regularly talk with its diehard fan base on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Dawn sees it as a chance to improve the brand and learn more about their market: “It’s cool talking to fans on social media. We learn a lot about what they’re interested in seeing from us, and we get to advertise and know them better by just joking around and posting funny pictures,” she says.

The results so far? Faygo went from being completely unranked to #15 on dBusinesses' Michigan Social Media Brand Index, jumping from 29,000ish Facebook followers in 2011 to over 107,000 today.

“In the next few years, Faygo will continue to develop new and unique flavors and packages. Our goal is to remain competitive in the industry and continue to push our distribution, particularly on the west and east coasts,” says Dawn. “We are looking to get authorized in many large convenience store chains and grocery stores throughout the U.S. to make it easier for consumers to find Faygo. Social media will also help us drive e-commerce sales through our new website, which will launch in the fall of 2014.”

One fine day you might be able to walk into any store and ask for a pop, and someone will hand you a Faygo. And let me tell you, you’re in for a treat.