|Type||Privately held company|
|Headquarters||Worcester, Massachusetts, USA|
|Key people||Ralph Crowley, Jr. Christopher Crowley, James (Jeff) Crowley, David Crowley, Carolyn Stimpson|
|Products||Polar Seltzers, Sodas and Mixers|
Polar Beverages is a soft drink company based in Worcester, Massachusetts, a manufacturer and distributor of fruit-flavored sodas, seltzer, ginger ale, drink mixers, and spring water to customers in the northeastern United States. It is the largest independent soft-drink bottler in the United States.
It markets beverages under its flagship brand, Polar Beverages, as well as the brands Adirondack Beverages and Cape Cod Dry. In addition to its own drinks, Polar bottles and distributes national brands such as A&W, Izze and Sunkist. The company has two bottling plants and six distribution facilities; it also offers corporate water services and beverage vending equipment.
It is a fourth-generation, family-owned business that traces its roots back to 1882; it is currently run by Ralph Crowley, Jr., the great-grandson of founder Dennis M. Crowley.
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Polar Beverages began as the J. G. Bieberbach Company, bottler of seltzers and ginger ale and distributor of imported mineral water. The company was also a wholesaler of alcoholic beverages. Prior to coming to Worcester, Mr. Bieberbach, the company’s founder, had immigrated to New York City from Germany, at the request of the Shafer Brewing Company, to help brew the first Pilsner beer in the United States.
1901 to 1940s
In 1901, Dennis M. Crowley, the great grandfather of the present owners of Polar Beverages, founded D. M. Crowley & Co., a wholesale and retail liquor business. Dennis, also known as “Boss Crowley,” was a second-generation American. His parents emigrated from Ireland because of the Great Irish Famine. The top selling product in those days was Crowley’s Ball Brook Straight Whiskey. In 1916 the Crowleys acquired the J. G. Bieberbach Company. The combined wholesale-retail liquor companies were very successful. In 1918 Dennis purchased the Leicester Polar Spring Company, and the combined businesses became known as the Bieber Polar Ginger Ale Company. The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s forced Polar’s most profitable business to cease, leaving Polar to focus on its ginger ale and spring water company. In 1933 prohibition was repealed, which allowed the Crowleys to resume their liquor business as “rectifiers and wholesalers”; however, the company remained focused on soft drinks and water as it is today.
In the early years of the company, the sale of bottled water accounted for a large percent of its business. The acquisition of the Leicester Polar Spring Company was important because its assets included the rights to the use of a pure spring located in Spencer, Massachusetts. This spring water was used for the company’s bottled water; and because of the exceptional quality of the spring water,[clarification needed] flavored soft drinks were added to the plant's production. Among the first flavors produced were Golden Ginger Ale and Pale Dry Ginger Ale.
The company’s headquarters remained at the site of the old Bieberbach firm at 113 Summer Street, Worcester, until 1968. At various times in the company’s history, Polar’s beverages were bottled at other Polar-owned plants in Boston, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut; and a warehouse was maintained in Springfield, Massachusetts.
1940s to 1990s
After serving in various branches of the military during World War II, the third generation of Crowleys became involved in Polar. The four Crowley brothers, Ralph, Edward, James and Denis, led the company. Entrepreneurial Chairman Ralph accepted and thrived in the lead management position. Many changes took place at Polar during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1966 the Polar Ginger Ale Company was renamed Polar Corp. to correct the impression that the company only produced ginger ale. Technical advances in bottling machinery modernized the business. One of the most significant events was in 1968 when Polar moved to its current location on Route 290 and built today’s modern plant. This allowed other facilities to be consolidated into the Worcester plant, ideally located at the cross roads of Routes 290, 146, 90 and 495, the heart of Polar’s Northeast marketplace.
1990s to 2000
Ralph Crowley remained Chairman until his death in 1995, and in 1992 the fourth generation took over with Ralph Crowley, Jr., becoming President and CEO. Under his leadership, Polar made numerous acquisitions for the rights to manufacture and distribute National brands such as 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, Seagrams, Royal Crown and Diet Rite. In 1999 his brother Christopher became Executive Vice President & Treasurer. Both Ralph and Christopher remain today in these roles at Polar Beverages. James (Jeff) Crowley, David Crowley, and Carolyn Stimpson the three younger siblings are also involved with the company. The Crowley family also runs Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Massachusetts.
Under this fourth generation of Crowleys, Polar has undergone its most dramatic growth and change. In December 1996, Polar Beverages bought long-time competitor Adirondack Beverages in Scotia, New York, including its 650,000 square foot manufacturing facility. Adirondack’s product line includes Adirondack, Waist Watchers, Clear ‘n’ Natural as well as private-label brands.
By 1998, Polar had outgrown its Route 290 facility and began looking for a new location in the New England area. After much consideration and many offers by other states, Polar decided to remain in Worcester out of loyalty to its employees and the local community. Polar’s decision to remain in Worcester ensured continued employment for over 600 local employees. For Polar’s renovation and restoration of the former Cookson Performance Plastics plant on Southbridge Street, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded Polar with the Silver Hammer Award. In May 1999 Polar Beverages acquired Venture Distributing, the leading new-age distributor in the Boston marketplace. Venture’s portfolio included brands such as Nantucket Nectars and AriZona. This acquisition was followed shortly in 2001 with the purchase of Snapple of Boston and then Snapple of Cape Cod in 2005. By the end of the turn of the Twentieth Century, Polar had become a “super regional” beverage company. Polar had completed over thirty acquisitions expanding into five divisions and now consisting of proprietary brands Polar, Adirondack, Waist Watcher and Clear ‘n’ Natural and National brands 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, Seagrams, Royal Crown and Diet Rite along with new-age brands Snapple, AriZona, Fiji Water, O Water, HyDrive and Nantucket Nectars in addition to retailer private-label brands and finally home and office water.
In September 2001 Polar Beverages formed a joint venture with Cott Corporation. The partnership is known as Northeast Retailer Brands, LLC. This joint-venture partnership produces and distributes most of the retailer branded beverages in the Northeast.
In 2007, Polar Beverages marked its 125th year in the beverage industry. Polar used this milestone as a time to remember its modest beginnings in 1882 and to celebrate the company’s heritage. Throughout all the changes Polar has undergone, it has maintained its commitment to its associates, the community and its consumers by providing the highest quality, healthy and unique beverages available today.
The Crowley family members were recipients of The Harvey Ball Smile Award in 2010. The award is presented by the Worcester Historical Museum to “an individual, organization, or group of individuals whose commitments have made a difference in the City of Worcester … and helped people throughout the community smile.” The award is named after the creator of the famed Smiley Face.
In 2012 Polar Beverages began an overhaul of its brand packaging and marketing in collaboration with the creative agency Miloby Ideasystem. The work has resulted in award-winning packaging across several of its core competencies - seltzer and mixers. Included was the introduction of their Limited Edition Seltzers.
A polar bear named Orson has been the company's mascot since 1902. Next to the company's billboard near I-290 in Worcester, there is a large inflatable version of Orson, which can be seen smiling and "waving" to passersby, who will also notice that the oversized bear is tied down securely by wire, not only to keep the bear in place during rough weather, but also to prevent theft. Orson has sometimes been stolen by local fraternities as a prank.
Conflict with Coca-Cola
In 1994 Polar made a TV commercial where a polar bear considers drinking a Coke, but throws it into a recycling bin marked, "Keep the Arctic pure." The polar bear then reaches down into the freezing, Arctic water and pulls out a can of Polar Seltzer and drinks contentedly. Coca-Cola filed a motion for the injunction against Polar in United States District Court in Boston contending that the commercial made Coke's product appear impure.
The US district court granted the Company's motion because the commercial "implied that Coke [was] not pure," misrepresented the nature and quality of Coke, thereby potentially harming the soft drink irreparably.
The injunction handed down required Polar Corporation to revise the ad. According to Polar, the judge's ruling affirmed the right of Polar to use a polar bear in its ads, but limited them from discarding the Coke can.
Clicquot Club, a former competitor of Polar
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- PSBC - The Painted Soda Bottle Collectors Association
- Wachusett Mountain - Facts & History