INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two entrepreneurs who relaunched a chocolate-flavored drink called Choc-Ola are hoping baby boomers' taste for nostalgia and consumers' love of anything with chocolate helps make the revived beverage a success.
Choc-Ola — a concoction of water, sugar, low-fat milk, cocoa and a handful of other ingredients — debuted in the 1940s and was pitched to a generation of fans in the 1970s by "Cowboy Bob" on Indianapolis television station WTTV-4's children's program.
It had been absent from grocery shelves for a decade, but this month Carlinville, Ill.-based Prairie Farms Dairy plans to begin distributing Choc-Ola in 18 states in individual-sized bottles, and half-gallon jugs that retail for $2.49, at grocery stores and convenience stores.
"It's the greatest-tasting chocolate milk you've ever had," said Joe Wolfla, a 73-year-old book publisher who worked with fellow Indianapolis entrepreneur Dan Iaria to relaunch the drink.
Last year, Iaria snapped up the trademark for little more than a $275 application fee and acquired the recipe separately, The Indianapolis Business Journal reports.
Iaria, who owns Indianapolis' Rock-Cola Cafe, began bottling the beverage in small batches for his restaurant's customers. He and Wolfla then pitched reviving Choc-Ola to Martin's Super Markets, a 21-store chain in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
That led to a deal with Prairie Farms Dairy to produce the drink at its Anderson plant.
Advertising copywriter Evan Finch, 46, found out that Choc-Ola was back after visiting Rock-Cola Café. He savored the taste of the drink he enjoyed during his childhood so much he created a Choc-Ola fan club on Facebook.
"The short answer is that Choc-Ola tastes like 1973 to me, and drinking it brings back a lot of good childhood memories," said Finch. "I don't think I really missed it until I couldn't get it anymore."
Choc-Ola fits within a growing beverage category and should generate strong interest among consumers, said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for New York-based The NPD Group and an expert on food and diet trends. The fact that Choc-Ola is new and chocolate will probably lead consumers to give it a try, he said.
"We are always looking for variety in the beverages we consume," Balzer said. "We love new things, even if they're old things. We know chocolate, and we like it."
NPD surveys through February 2011 show that 13 percent of Americans consumed a chocolate beverage, including chocolate milk, at least once during a two-week survey period.
That's the highest figure NPD has recorded going back more than 15 years, well above the 7 percent to 8 percent range of a few years ago, said Balzer, who writes the company's annual "Eating Patterns in America" report.
Choc-Ola was available for sale primarily in the Midwest until parent company Yoo-hoo phased out production in 2001.
Since production of the drink resumed in March, customers have snapped up more than 35,000 half-gallon jugs.
Iaria figures there's plenty of room for growth. He said the Choc-Ola brand sold more than 30 million units a year at its peak in the 1970s, and that was just in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan.
He said a chemist at Prairie Farms preferred the flavor to the company's chocolate milk.
"Choc-Ola is much lighter, with a rich chocolatey sweet taste," said Iaria.