On Wednesday, we acknowledged the closure of the Black Bear Bottling plant in Oak Creek and, in doing so, mourned the loss of the 90-year-old Black Bear Soda brand in both written and audio formats. It seems that was premature. Yes, September 15 will be the final day of production at Black Bear Bottling. However, Black Bear Soda doesn’t appear to be going anywhere after all.
WIT Beverage Company currently owns the Black Bear Soda brand. Even though the Black Bear’s eponymous bottling plant is closing, WIT has no intentions of stopping production on the soda line itself.
“I just want it to be clear that the brand will still be around,” says James Akers, who works in brand and marketing sales at WIT Beverage Company. “The bottling company is closed, but the brand is still alive and looking for production.”
Akers tells Milwaukee Record that WIT—which also sells Jelly Belly Gourmet Soda, Goose Island Craft Soda, and Caruso’s Legacy Gourmet Soda—is in the process of looking for a new bottling plant. He says they’ve spoken to a couple in-state bottlers.
“My first preference is—since it was always made in Wisconsin—to make it in Wisconsin. That’s the first effort. That’s the big push,” Akers says. “There aren’t a lot of true bottlers left in the state now that Black Bear went down.”
WIT has experienced difficulty finding a local plant who can both bottle and label Black Bear’s best-selling 16.9-ounce vessel. Akers says keeping that bottle size around is a top priority, but canning could be an alternative. As the inventory on those half-liter bottles continues to dwindle, WIT will sell Black Bear liter bottles and fountain syrup. Akers says WIT plans to have the soda line up and running at full capacity “hopefully by year’s end, if not sooner.”
There’s still a lot of uncertainty in this situation, but at least on thing is abundantly clear at this point.
“The key thing is Black Bear Soda didn’t go down with Black Bear the bottling company,” Akers says.
R.I.P. Black Bear Bottling. Long live Black Bear Soda.