Press Enterprise January 27, 2001

Bottler sees its 75th year
'Big Ben' going strong

by Steven Helmer -- Bloomsburg Press Enterprise

CATAWISSA -- About 75 years ago, Bruce "Ben" Gregorowicz and his wife purchased a creamery on Fisher Avenue and began bottling their own blend of soft drink.

"Bg Ben" sodas are still on the market today, despite intense competition from soft drink giants like Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

Keeping the family-run Catawissa Bottling Company in business is hard, admitted Paula Gregorowicz Clark. Bruce and Suzanna's granddaughter. Most area supermarkets won't carry the company's sodas, and a lot of people in the area, Paula said, "don't even know we're here"

But Big Ben's, formerly known as Catawissa Sparkling Beverages, is a hit with many loyal customers, she said. They like the price and the variety of flavors - 23 in all.
BR> Paula, who handles much of Catawissa Bottling's day-to-day business, sat down recently to talk about the growth and changes at the company over the years.

On the wall of the company offices, once her grandparents home; a license from the Department of Agriculture, dated July 7, 1926, gives the Gregorowicz family permission to run a bottling company. Since that time, the business has been passed to Bruce and Suzanna's children and now to their grandchildren.

"It's a lot of work," said Paula, adding that, while the company employees about a dozen workers, much of the work is kept in the family. Her brother, Michael, serves as the company's legal adviser and mixes the syrups. Another brother, Steven, does most of the maintenance work. Their mother, Rose Ann, also still helps with much of the office work.

The company delivers its soda to people all over the state. Loyal customers, Paula said, make up most of the plant's business.

"Our soda is sold to some taverns," Paula said. "And, we get business through good old-fashioned word of mouth."

The company would like to get even more business, she said.

"half of the people around here don't even know we're here," she said. "A lot of our business comes from people from out of town."

In addition, while Big Ben's can be found a some taverns and many special occasions, it isn't stocked in most area supermarkets.

"I've tried to get stores to put it on their shelves." Paula said. "But, it turns out that Pepsi and Coke buy their shelf space. They have a limited amount of space left and don't have room for us.:

Still, she said. Big Ben's continues to find its place on the market.

One of the reasons, she said, is Catawissa Bottling's use of recyclable bottles. While also packaged in plastic, most of the soft drinks are bottled in returnable glass. Using glass, Paula said, helps reduce packaging costs, which keeps prices about equal to and sometimes less than those of large soda companies.

"The packaging can greatly increase the price," she said. "In fact, it's probably the most expensive part of the process."

Another reason for Big Ben's popularity is the variety of flavors the company offers. Included in the flavors are blue birch, which is exclusive to Catawissa Bottling, and Moxie, the oldest soft drink in America, which has a market of its own.

The company also recently began bottling ginger beer because of a demand for that flovor.

The soda is sold in a variety of sizes, from a 7-ounce bottles to kegs. A new addition within the next couple of months, Paula said, will be 2-liter bottles.

"We're adding an additional line that will produce those," she said.

When asked wether her family would ever consider selling the company to Coke or Pepsi if the offer were to be made, Paula replied, "Everybody has a price."

However, she said, she would prefer to see Big Ben's remain a family business. Hope that it will continue, she said, cand be seen in her 5-year old son, named Ben after his great-grandfather, the original Big Ben.

"He's told me he wants to make soda when he grows up," Paula said. "I think that's a good thing. I just hope we stay in business for another 75 years."

Reprint from: Bloomsberg Press Enterprise - January 27, 12001
This article is being republished with the permission of Press Enterprise.

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