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The Great Dr Pepper Manhunt

Tuesday, 22nd May, 2001

I have a confession to make.

It seems that a confession is required to obviate the backlog of sin that I must be building up. I've never confessed before, Father, but you see I drink Dr Pepper. Don't be too hard on me, it's my first sin. Well I walked on a lawn once so maybe it's my second. Oh, and I did think evil thoughts for a while when the Archbishop of Canterbury called me a heretic. That's not a sin? OK, then second sin it is.

Quite why drinking Dr Pepper should be a heinous crime is beyond me, but the habit has been met by two distinct responses which suggest no other alternative.

Firstly, everyone who visits me at home or stops by my table in the canteen at work has the same thing to say: 'How can you drink that stuff!?'

In practice I find it rather easy, and in practice, I don't need much practice. I lift and tilt and it slides down my throat just like it would a bad juggler of pinball tables, merely with less blood and screaming.

It's just a basic pop, unless you live in the parts of the States where it's a soda, or of course if you live so far south that it becomes a Coke. Either way it's just a soft drink that fizzes. Is it the distinctive taste that turns people off? Because it certainly has that, for better or worse.

Please excuse the heresy in advance but coke to me tastes like coke, whether it's Coca Cola or Pepsi Max or Diet this or Caffeine Free that. Unless of course it's Cherry Coke and then it just tastes disgusting. Cherry Coke has the worst packaging in the world, and possibly the worst taste outside of six month old milk that moves. How the hell did it become a fashion accessory anyway?

Dr Pepper at least tastes unique. Now I have no problem with people not liking it. After all, what sort of a world would this be if everyone had the same tastes? Boring, that's what. What gets me is that it seems to have become the convenient scapegoat in the Coca Cola vs Pepsi brand war. Hating Dr Pepper seems to be the one thing both sides can agree on.

'Hey you! You're drinking Pepsi! You have no taste! I hate you!'

'Yeah, but you're drinking Coca Cola! You suck!'

'Oh, but look! There's someone drinking Dr Pepper! We agree on something after all! Let's go and ask him how he can drink that stuff. I'm sure he's never heard that before.'

Could it be that I'm really colourblind and there's cleverly disguised writing on a Dr Pepper bottle that reads 'Annoy the hell out of me - I like it'? Is there a DNA strand that develops into a Despise Dr Pepper gene? Go back to your table and drink what you like. I don't care. Let's get rid of the 'right to bear arms' amendment. I have two arms and they aren't going anywhere. Let's replace it with a 'right to drink Dr Pepper in peace'. Is that too much to ask for?

Of course, even if people didn't look at me like I had an eyeball on a stalk waggling its way out of my forehead just because I dare to drink Dr Pepper, the second response would kick in just the same.

You see, nobody stocks the stuff. I live about two minutes walk away from my local supermarket, but they are perpetually out of stock. I've given up picking up a shopping basket nowadays, I just wander along to the soft drinks aisle and gaze for a sad second at the lack of Dr Pepper and then wander back out to try somewhere else. At least it's good exercise for me - I have to try every supermarket in town before I find one that isn't sold out.

Now whatever people think, the supermarkets are doing something wrong here. Follow my logic and poke holes in this scenario. I dare you.

If the supermarkets are perpetually sold out, then somebody must be buying the stuff. If somebody is buying the stuff then the supermarkets can sell it. Let's take this a step further. If the Dr Pepper is constantly sold out, as evidenced by a conspicuous gap between row after row of unsold bottles of Pepsi Max, why not buy some and fill the damn space? Why not get rid of all these bottles that nobody is buying and fill it with something that sells?

Did you find a hole in my logic? No, you didn't, because there isn't one. Either KwikSave are sponsored by Pepsi Max or the people that run the place are idiots. Actually that's a far more reasonable explanation as I've told these people outright on more than one occasion that if they stock the stuff then I will buy it. I've been known to grab a case directly from the trolley before it even hits the shelves because at least I know it's safe in my hands. Do they not understand the English language?

One shelf stacker has experienced this routine so often that he has started answering me before I even ask when the next delivery is. I just look at him and he says 'Thursday! Next one on Thursday!'

Well, Thursday's no good to me. Today is Tuesday. If I was a loyal customer I'd have two whole days to wait, totally cold turkey on Dr Pepper, only to find on Thursday that it has now become 'Saturday! Next one on Saturday!'

Apparently when the truck turns up with its load of products for the KwikSave shelves, nobody knows what's going to be in the truck until they open it. Like, what kind of a way to run a business is this? I'm pining for my Dr Pepper fix and in comes sixteen pallets of cat food. You don't notice a problem here, guys? Ever heard of the maxim that the customer is always right? Well I'm the customer and I'm right here, dammit, and I don't want cat food! I bought cat food yesterday! Gimme my Dr Pepper!

Alas and alack, this isn't how the system seems to work, if indeed 'work' is applicable to KwikSave in the slightest. That cat food I mentioned hasn't been added to the barcode system in six months. I have to tell the cashier how much it is every time I buy any. Next time I'm going to cut the price in half and tell her it's on special offer, just to be awkward.

So I waltz through the checkout waving my empty basket and looking about as disheartened as I can manage just in case someone important picks up the distinct lack of this customer's satisfaction, and head on down to Tesco's.

Tesco's is more expensive and smaller, but at least they usually have one bottle left in their own tiny gap between row after row of other unsold merchandise. Lately it's been on special offer. The sign tells me that I can get two bottles for the price of one.

'Well not with only one bottle left, I can't. Does this mean I get it for half price?'

'No, sorry, sir. You have to have two bottles.'

'But there's only one bottle left.'

'You have to have two bottles, sir. It must be a popular offer.'

'So popular that everyone buys in pairs and there's only one left? You buy them in cases of eleven? How come it sells out so quickly and you have no space on the shelves for it?'

'Well, people buy a lot of Pepsi Max.'

'No they don't! If they bought the stuff, it wouldn't be filling up the damn shelves! Dr Pepper sells - that's why you have a big gap above the sign that reads Dr Pepper.'

'But it isn't that popular.'

'Maybe the main reason that you don't sell more of it is because you don't have more of it to sell. You've sold out! You have no more! I'd buy six bottles right now!'

'But we don't have six bottles right now, sir.'

'I did notice that. I also noticed that you have six bottles of Pepsi Max, however. In fact it looks like you've got six hundred bottles of Pepsi Max but only one bottle of Dr Pepper.'

'It's a popular line, sir.'


I even get these problems at work. I try to keep a bottle on my desk to keep me going through the day, and I supply it from the corner shop a little way down the road.

'I can't get any,' he says. 'They don't have them at the cash and carry. I'm going again tomorrow so I'll see what I can find.'

Next day nothing. 'They only have them at full price, not these cheap bottles.'

'You honestly think I'm only buying the stuff because it has �1.29 on the bottle?'

'Well, the normal price is �1.49.'

'Yeah, and I'm having to pay a hell of a lot more than that right now at the garage because you don't have any and the supermarkets are sponsored by Pepsi Max. You think I'd say no if you got normal priced ones? Buy! Buy! Buy!'

He understands now. He buys the stuff in, I buy it. He makes money, I don't go cold turkey. I'm happy, he's happy.

I thought this was the basis of retail. Don't they teach people this in economics any more? No wonder the government needs so much tax from me - it's all because the supermarkets don't have a fitting amount of space on their shelves to stock enough Dr Pepper.

Let's see you solve that one on your manifestos, honorable gentleman. I dare you.

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