Canfield's Diet Chocolate Fudge
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Canfield's Diet Chocolate Fudge soda is a zero-calorie, aspartame-sweetened carbonated soft drink canned and distributed by the A.J. Canfield Company of Elgin, Illinois, USA, a division of Select Beverages. Production for the midwestern United States is handled by the American Bottling Company, a subsidiary of Dr Pepper Snapple Group and distribution by Kehe Foods of Chicago.
The beverage was introduced in 1972 by 32-year-old Alan B. Canfield, senior vice president of Elgin, Illinois-based A.J. Canfield Beverages, a company founded by his grandfather. Canfield, himself a chronic dieter and chocolate lover, got the idea the year before and brought a two-pound box of fudge to Manny Wesber, the company's chief chemist. Canfield asked Wesber if he could duplicate the taste, stating that the end result would be the world beating a path to his company's door.
Wesber succeeded in creating a saccharin-sweetened chemically-created concoction, entirely artificially flavored. The drink sold moderately well among Canfield's other brands, with sales remaining steady over the next 13 years.
Canfield's Diet Chocolate Fudge, by this time sweetened with aspartame, was also re-introduced at an opportune time in one other significant way. It was during that period that Coca-Cola was in a tailspin over its poorly received New Coke and consumers were seeking alternatives. When Chicago Tribune reporter Bob Greene reviewed the product and described it as tasting "like a calorie-free hot fudge sundae," sales went from lukewarm to one of the hottest in the soft drink market practically overnight.
By 1985, regional bottlers across the United States were seeking franchise rights. With these rights in place, more than twenty-five million cans of Canfield's Diet Chocolate Fudge soda were sold in four months with projected sales of 165 million cans for the remainder of the year.
As competition from other makers increased, Canfield's grew increasingly protective of their "Chocolate Fudge" moniker, going so far as to sue rival maker Vess Beverages over their use of the name, "Vess Diet Chocolate Fudge." A federal district court judge ruled in favor of Canfield and issued a preliminary injunction disallowing the use of the word "fudge" on their packaging. Though the injunction was later overturned, the case, known as Canfield v. Honickman, continues to be used as an example during the study of trademark product law.
Spinoffs proved less successful. 1987 saw the introduction of "Diet Cherry Chocolate Fudge" and "Diet Peanut Chocolate Fudge," both of which are still sold today in limited numbers.
In 1995, the A.J. Canfield Company was sold to Select Beverages for an undisclosed sum. The company's plant in Elgin, which had been operating since the 1930s, closed the following year. Production of the Diet Chocolate Fudge drinks were moved to another plant.
- Soda Popster Alan Canfield Strikes Black Gold with Hot Fudge Diet Drink, People Magazine, July 22, 1985
- Too Hot to Handle, Inc. Magazine, March 1987
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- Hot Product, Cold World, Inc. Magazine, August 1990
- PR on a Shoestring - includes helpful hints for business public relations, Nation's Business, January 1991
- Canfield's Sold; Terms Undisclosed, Chicago Sun-Times, May 19, 1995