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It Started With a Bang . . . : Sun Valley Firm Hopes Dispenser Will Keep Juice Drink Flowing

July 01, 1986|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

The name Orange Bang may not be on a lot of people's lips, even though the frothy orange drink that goes by that name touches about 600,000 pairs daily.

That's about how many cups of the stuff are sold nationwide each day at convenience stores, cafeterias, concession stands and fast-food restaurants. Still, Orange Bang is relatively obscure when compared to some of the soft drinks and thirst quenchers relentlessly promoted by large beverage makers with huge advertising budgets.

David Fox, owner of the Sun Valley company that makes the drink, believes that he has found a way to help change that. In the past year, he has introduced a dispenser to mix and whip the drinks automatically in small fountains similar to those used to dispense soft drinks.

Fox said his machine takes up less space on a counter and is less trouble to refill and clean than the conventional dispensers of frothy drinks, in which the liquid is pumped continually so that it cascades down the sides of a plastic bubble encasement. The result, he hopes, will be wider acceptance by food sellers and consumers of whipped drinks like Orange Bang.

As revolutions go, it's one of the quieter ones taking place these days. But it's a big deal to Fox and Orange Bang Inc., a company he started 15 years ago with a $5,000 loan from his mother and built into a $5-million-a-year company in sales.

No one knows for sure how big a market is at stake, because the frothy orange drink business isn't exactly the most scrutinized segment of the beverage industry. Industry executives, however, estimate the overall nationwide market for their products at $20 million to $25 million annually.

Orange Bang is a concentrate of orange juice, egg white, nonfat milk and sugar made in 1,500-gallon steel vats eight feet high. Although the exact formula for the drink, which is six-parts water and one-part concentrate, is a closely guarded secret, it's safe to say it's similar in taste to the orange drink made popular by Orange Julius of America.

The main difference is that an Orange Julius is made in a blender and is sold only at the Santa Monica-based company's fast-food franchises, almost all of which are in shopping malls. Executives at both Orange Bang and Orange Julius said they don't consider each other competitors.

The main competitor is Orange Whip, a Commerce-based company that makes a similar drink. Bill Jameson, national sales manager for Orange Whip, said he views the two companies as the Coca-Cola and Pepsi of the whipped orange drink business.

Jameson claims that Orange Bang, like Coca-Cola, is the largest company, but that Orange Whip, like Pepsi, has beenclosing the gap. Executives estimate that the two companies combined have about 40% of the whipped orange drink market, with the remaining sales spread among small, regional companies nationwide.

There is a friendly competitiveness between Orange Bang and Orange Whip. Jameson claims that Orange Whip's new, patented dispenser, similar to Orange Bang's but made partly with a clear acrylic that allows people to see the drink before buying it, will forever change the whipped drink business.

Fox calls his machine, in which the drink isn't visible before it is poured, revolutionary nevertheless, claiming that it enables Orange Bang sellers to get a bigger bang for their buck.

Greater Consumption Expected

Regardless, both agree that the new methods of dispensing whipped drinks, along with increasing emphasis on nutrition that has led to more consumption of fruit-based beverages, should benefit both companies.

In recent years, Fox has added Pina Colada Bang and Strawberry Bang drinks to his product line and also makes more conventional fruit drinks sold under the Ole label in grape, orange, lemon, cherry, peach and punch flavors.

Based on the amount of concentrate he sells--about 6,000 gallons a day--Fox estimates that 1.2 million 12-ounce cups of his drinks are sold daily at retail prices ranging from 39 cents to 60 cents. Orange Bang makes up half of those sales, he said.

Orange Drink Overdose

Fox, however, isn't one of those people drinking the product. Except for periodic taste tests, he said, he abstains from drinking the stuff, tracing his reasons to the days when he launched the company in 1971.

Fox said that, for the better part of three months, he rose at 6 a.m. to blend orange drinks in an effort to figure out the recipe for an orange drink he had come across in Texas.

All Fox had to go on was a list of ingredients, and it was up to him to discover the right amounts to make a tasty product he could sell. Weighing the ingredients on a tiny scale, Fox said, he blended and drank about 1,500 orange drinks before getting the formula correct.

"I drank it so much then that I try not to drink it now. It reminds me of that time of frustration," Fox said.

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