History of Kist Soda


© History Oasis
"Kist soda is the best. I've been drinking it since I was a kid."

—Bill Murray, actor

For over 75 years, Kist Soda has bubbled its way into the American zeitgeist.

This spirited independent brand has refreshed generations of drinkers since its 1940s origins while preserving its retro charm.

Exploring the history of Kist Soda, we'll see how this always effervescent underdog has persevered—surviving competition, controversy, and changing tastes through the decades.

From its wartime roots to experimental flavors that defy modern conventions, the story of this neon pop reveals an enduring brand willing to keep innovating within its vintage spirit.

Join us as we trace how Kist carved its niche in Americana by honoring nostalgia as much as progress.


an old Kist pin-up ad
Source: Kist Soda

In 1944, as the United States was deeply embroiled in World War II, the Kist Beverage Company was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio.

This fledgling company sought to provide a refreshing, affordable beverage to families on the homefront. Their first product was a bright, effervescent orange soda they dubbed "Sun Crest Orange Soda."

While Coca-Cola and Pepsi were dominating the market with their dark cola drinks, Sun Crest stood out for its bubbly, citrus flavor.

Bottled in glass with bold orange and yellow graphics, Sun Crest evoked images of sunshine and citrus groves, providing a sunny burst of flavor to wartime America.

The Kist Beverage Company promoted Sun Crest as a wholesome, family-friendly beverage.

Their timing was auspicious, as wartime rations limited availability of many food products.

Sun Crest was not only refreshing but offered a source of vitamin C from natural orange extracts. By providing an affordable drink with health benefits, Kist Beverage saw their sales take off.

By the end of the 1940s, Sun Crest Orange Soda had become the flagship product that defined Kist Beverage Co.

Its bright, fun packaging and nostalgic flavor came to embody an essence of postwar Americana.

What started as a humble orange soda in 1944 went on to become an iconic American brand that would evolve and thrill tastebuds for generations to come.


© History Oasis

The 1950s was a decade of innovation and experimentation for the Kist Beverage Company.

Riding high on the success of their flagship orange soda, Kist turned their sights towards developing new flavor varieties to appeal to the postwar consumer.

In doing so, they would end up sparking controversy and urban legend with one of their most iconic products—a bright green grape soda.

When Kist's new green grape soda first hit shelves in the early 1950s, it caused quite a stir.

At the time, most grape sodas were formulated with dark purple dyes derived from blackcurrant or elderberry extract.

Kist's version had an almost unnaturally vibrant fluorescent green color unlike anything the public had seen before.

Rumors swirled that Kist's mysterious green tint came from radioactive materials or dangerous chemicals.

In an era when nuclear science and fallout anxiety gripped the public psyche, Kist's eerie soda was suspected of being an atomic experiment gone wrong.

News articles and gossip columns speculated on the ominous origins of the unnatural hue.

Of course, the true source was much more benign.

The signature green color came from a combination of natural plant extracts like spinach, grapes, and chlorophyll. But the rumors persisted for years, only adding to the soda's intrigue.

Kids would dare each other to drink the "radioactive pop" as a show of bravado.

While initially shocking, Kist's unusual green grape soda became a hit with thrill-seeking youth.

It was banned in some schools due to the alarming rumors.

However, its unique color and taboo lore ultimately helped cement it as a quintessential American novelty of the 1950s.


What a kist can might have looked like when exploding
© History Oasis

The 1960s ushered in a new era of innovation in soda marketing and distribution that built upon technical advancements pioneered during World War II.

As companies sought to make their products more portable and accessible to American consumers, Kist Beverage Company became a surprising industry leader by being one of the first companies to sell soda in cans.

However, this progressive move was not without some clumsy missteps along the way.

Kist's first attempts at canning their signature fruity sodas in the early 1960s was plagued with problems.

While the technology worked fine for sturdier beverages like beer, the pressurized carbonation of soda proved more challenging. Weak seams and faculty openings in Kist's soda cans would often rupture and spray soda everywhere upon opening.

Many shocked customers got an unwelcome faceful of grape or orange soda.

This messy phenomenon became jokingly known as "getting Kisted" in popular culture of the time.

Stand-up comedians incorporated it into routines as a reference to the soda's tendency to explode unexpectedly.

Kist worked diligently to improve can integrity as the decade went on, eliminating sharp edges and weak points in the design.

While early cans may have tarnished the company's reputation, they ultimately perfected the technology and helped make canned soda the norm moving forward. By decade's end, getting "Kisted" was a waning memory as their cans became more reliable.


a lemon-lime soda with a lemon on the side
© History Oasis

The 1970s was a decade of bold experimentation for the Kist Beverage Company as they sought to retain their innovative edge in a rapidly evolving beverage market.

One such experiment was the ill-fated launch of "Kist Lemon-Lime Squeeze" in the mid-1970s, which proved an ambitious yet ultimately impractical product.

Hoping to leapfrog imitators, Kist formulated a clear soda which required customers to squeeze concentrated lemon and lime fluid from an accompanying pouch into the bottle.

The marketing touted this as an interactive experience, allowing drinkers to control the flavor strength themselves by adding as much or as little citrus as they desired.

However, in practice the extra assembly proved cumbersome for thirsty consumers who simply wanted to drink a lemon-lime soda without hassle.

Shaking and squeezing the pouches required dexterity many found frustrating, especially children and teens who made up a large part of the soda-drinking demographic.

By 1977, it was clear the public resented the additional labor required for a product they felt should be ready-to-drink immediately.

Consumers gravitated back to simple, pre-mixed sodas while "Kist Lemon-Lime Squeeze'' quietly disappeared from store shelves before the decade's end.


What making out with kist ad could look like
© History Oasis

The 1990s were a decade of increased youth marketing and edgy provocation in advertising, trends the Kist Beverage Company controversially embraced with their "Make Out With Kist" ad campaign.

Featuring images of young people passionately kissing cans of Kist soda, the ads attempted to inject the brand with a bold, irreverent identity to court teen drinkers.

However, the sexualized marketing would backfire, causing backlash from consumers concerned about underage targeted messaging.

Launched in 1992, "Make Out With Kist" was a calculated attempt to give the company's image an attitude makeover.

The tongue-in-cheek ads positioned drinking Kist as rebellious, even sensual. One ad showed a couple locked in a fizzy kiss with the tagline "Sweetly Tart & All for You."

While attention-grabbing to teens, many parents balked at the perception of using sex to sell soda to minors.

Morality groups denounced Kist for irresponsible marketing that exploited youth desires.

They accused the campaign of glorifying underage drinking by associating Kist with adult romance and sexuality.

Calls for soda boycotts and ad censorship ensued, harshly calling out Kist for its transparent ploy to court an adolescent demographic.

Stung by criticism, Kist eventually ditched the "Make Out" slogan by decade's end for tamer messaging.

The controversy reflected the rising debate around marketing's influence on youth identity and health.


A modern Kist logo and can
Source: Kist Soda

The Evolution Of Kist's Brand Image Took An Unexpectedly Nostalgic Turn In The Early 2010s, As The Company Learned The Power Of Retro Appeal Among Its Multigenerational Fanbase.

Seeking to modernize in 2010, Kist unveiled a new simplified logo and clean can design, ditching the busier retro graphics they'd sported for decades.

However, this move sparked major backlash from longtime customers.

Fans decried the new look as overly muted and devoid of personality, lacking the playful, bold cans that built Kist's identity.

A grassroots petition circulated demanding Kist bring back their vintage packaging.

Caught off guard by the outpouring of nostalgia, Kist initially defended the rebranding as necessary evolution. But as petitions amassed signatures, the company realized the depth of consumer affection for their legacy imagery.

By 2012, Kist apologized and announced the return of select retro can designs for their heritage flavors.

They were careful not to fully abandon their new look either, compromising by releasing special edition "Throwback Packs" with classic branding alongside updated versions.

The retro cans proved a runaway success, tapping powerful consumer nostalgia.

The receptiveness to vintage design highlighted Kist's lasting place in American culture, transcending generations.


An old Kist ad featuring a woman and it says "Refresh with Orange Kist"
Source: Kist Soda

As Kist sodas have endured into the 21st century, the brand has carved a niche for itself through an embrace of novel and unconventional flavors.

While legacy citrus and fruit sodas remain in their lineup, Kist now punctuates the year with a rotating array of limited-edition seasonal flavors tailored to holidays and events.

This flavor innovation strategy took root in the early 2000s, as Kist sought to attract attention in a beverage market increasingly saturated with both variety and gimmicks.

Their signature seasonal releases have since become highly anticipated traditions for longtime fans.

Winter brings unique sodas like Gingerbread or Peppermint Cocoa to line shelves through the holiday season.

These are followed by special spring editions like Lilac Cream or Cucumber Lime to evoke the brighter days ahead.

Summer sees flavors like Watermelon Lemonade and Groovy Grapefruit burst forth, often with patriotic packs for Fourth of July.

And fall sees the debut of sodas like Pumpkin Spice or Caramel Apple for autumnal indulgence.

The flavors themselves are often hit or miss, inspiring fierce debate among fans. But the seasonal cycles have cemented Kist as a nostalgic yearly comfort, evoking memories of holidays past with each limited-edition concoction.

This spirit of flavor innovation connects back to the brand's legacy beginnings.

Yet now fueled by internet-era consumer hunger for ever-new experiences, even if just for one season at a time.

For Kist, each era brings new ways to blend tradition with changing tastes.


A pin-up Kist girl
Source: Kist Soda

In 2019, The Coca-Cola Company acquired Kist soda, a popular regional soda brand in the United States. The acquisition was part of Coca-Cola's strategy to expand its portfolio of brands and reach new consumers.

Coca-Cola's acquisition of Kist soda was met with mixed reactions. Some consumers were concerned that Coca-Cola would change the Kist formula or discontinue the brand altogether. However, Coca-Cola has assured consumers that it will continue to produce Kist soda according to the same recipe.

Coca-Cola has also invested in marketing and distribution to support the Kist brand. As a result, Kist soda sales have increased since the acquisition.

Overall, Coca-Cola's acquisition of Kist soda has been a success.

The acquisition has allowed Coca-Cola to expand its portfolio of brands and reach new consumers. Kist soda has also benefited from Coca-Cola's marketing and distribution support.