consumer goods

Beep fruit drink makes comeback

Prodded by fans, a Maritime dairy brings back retro drink Beep.

Farmers re-launch Beep, a fruit beverage for a limited time, photographed at the plant in Hammonds Plains, Wednesday, June 6, 2012. (Adrien Veczan/The Halifax Chronicle Herald)

In an act of blind devotion, the stocky young shopper frantically loads 20 yellow cartons— the supermarket’s entire shelved inventory—into his shopping cart. He then scampers down the empty aisle toward the checkout. “You shouldn’t have to chase after the last of your favorite fruit drink,” the decidedly low-budget video asserts in bold, white-on-black type. Running just 50 seconds and shot in two takes, it speaks volumes about improbable relationships that sometimes form between people and brands.

Those cartons contained Beep, a tangy beverage featuring trace amounts of apple, orange, prune, apricot and pineapple juice. The panicked customer was Matt Dagley, who runs a small video production company in Halifax. He needn’t have hurried. By the time he posted the video on YouTube in May 2010, virtually nobody else was buying Beep. Even so, Farmers Co-operative Dairy received numerous phone calls, e-mails and plaintive social media bleats, all urging it to reconsider its decision to discontinue the product it had been selling since 1962. “In light of how little Beep we were selling, we were surprised,” says marketing director Andrea Hickey.

When Beep first appeared, fruit drinks rarely contained much real juice. (Beep delivered just 25% of it per volume.) An ingredient supplier owned the formula and sold concentrate to dairies across North America. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s it became especially popular in Nova Scotia, competing directly with international brands like Sunny Delight and Tang. “What really connects me to the product is that it’s made and sold only in Nova Scotia,” Dagley says. “It’s fun to explain to someone what Beep is, and it’s even fun to say.”

But in an increasingly health-conscious market routinely bombarded with new products, Beep’s dubious nutritional credentials and Farmers’ limited muscle proved serious liabilities. Sales volume dwindled to the point where Farmers couldn’t justify producing even the minimum batch volume.

Heeding its fans, Farmers temporarily resumed production this summer. The relaunch is nearly as low-budget as Dagley’s video. The juice is churned out by the same Bedford, N.S., plant that produced it for decades, using the same formula. Hoping to capitalize on the nostalgia of those whose childhood tantrums were fuelled by the sugary beverage, the company replicated the original 1960s packaging. It has directed a small number of marketing dollars into a geographically targeted online banner ad campaign and some local radio spots, but the main push is through social media. Farmers uses its Facebook page to connect with customers, and monitors feedback closely. “Our first post about Beep was our best post ever in terms of community reaction— 598 Likes, 220 Comments, 784 Shares,” reports Hickey.

Initial sales exceeded expectations, prompting Farmers to order more packaging and ingredients. Dagley’s doing his part, consuming a carton a week. But it’s unclear whether nostalgia and social media can spur sufficient demand to restore the product permanently. “We will certainly consider bringing Beep back again next summer,” Hickey says. “It will be like the eggnog of summer.” And if it isn’t, the company hasn’t exactly bet the farm.