Some may view the full story of Mr. Pibb as a sad one. It was created to compete with Dr Pepper in the early 1970s there was a racial snafu in the 1980s, and it was actually, as many might not realize, discontinued in 2001. That’s right, it’s been nearly two decades since a 12-pack of Mr Pibb graced supermarket shelves.
Though Pibb Xtra is still found at restaurants and in grocery stores, sort of, the story of Mr. Pibb ebbs and flows with some good drama. Think color changes, wild fans stopping at nothing for a case of the stuff, and some great vintage memorabilia and connections to old stunt shows.
But there has also been a continuous grappling with the spicy cherry giant that is Dr Pepper. From premiering in Pepper’s hometown to McDonald’s making the tough call (or maybe not, who knows), Mr. Pibb has often been overshadowed by its own inspiration. But right now, we’ll let Mr Pibb’s retro glory shine.
Here’s the difference between Mr. Pibb and Dr Pepper
For starters, Mr. Pibb and Dr Pepper can have something of a Red Vines versus Twizzlers effect on dinner conversations, but there’s a big difference in the background of each drink. To be succinct, Dr Pepper was created in the 19th century by a pharmacist who worked at a drug store in Waco, Texas (via Dr Pepper). It was on the market by 1885, which makes it the oldest soft drink in the country.
Conversely, Mr. Pibb hit the market in 1972 as The Coca-Cola Company’s way of stepping up to Dr Pepper’s success. It had the same peppery-flavored profile, and the same color packaging. However, while Dr Pepper can be found all over the globe, Mr. Pibb is primarily sipped on in the United States.
One other difference between Mr Pibb and Dr Pepper: Notice how there’s no dot on the surname in the styling of Dr Pepper, which was removed in the 1950s (via Mental Floss). Mr. Pibb, at least, seemingly has a good copy editor.
Mr. Pibb’s first name was Peppo
The Coca-Cola Company must have thought it was cute when it was creating a competing soft drink to Dr Pepper in the early 1970s. Coca-Cola too created a spicy drink made of 23 different flavors. If these efforts weren’t obvious enough, its original name was Peppo (via Pibb Thug).
Dr Pepper was quick to file a trademark infringement lawsuit against Coca-Cola, saying Peppo was way too close to its own branded name. Dr Pepper must have also felt confident, since this was not the first time the company had filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola. A different snafu went down between the soft drink giants in 1951. Coca-Cola was in trouble for offering $.05-cent Cokes, which Dr Pepper said were "sold below cost and were a restraint of trade" (via Retro Planet).
Coca-Cola updated the name to Mr. Pibb in 1972, which Dr Pepper’s people apparently found tolerable. But that wasn’t the last name change, though it took about three decades. Mr. Pibb has gone by the name Pibb Xtra since 2001.
Like Dr Pepper, Mr. Pibb also initially started in Waco, Texas
In many ways, Mr. Pibb was something like the little annoying bully that might have attended grade school with the mega popular Dr Pepper. Prime example: the Coca-Cola Company debuted Mr. Pibb in Dr Pepper’s hometown of Waco, Texas. This Hill Country town outside of Austin isn’t necessarily known as a go-to test market, which is what makes Coke’s stunt all the cheekier.
As many know, Dr Pepper is unofficially the soft drink of Texas (via Houston Press). It was first manufactured and available for purchase in Waco (and there’s even a Dr Pepper Museum there dedicated to this history).
When Mr. Pibb hit the scene in 1972, Coke began test-marketing in Waco and Texarkana, as well as a few other cities in Texas and Mississippi. And, the art director on the Mr. Pibb campaign Alan Honig told The New York Times a year later in 1973, they sold 17,000 cases in the first week. But there were apparently tons of advertising and coupons to pull this off.
Mr. Pibb started off brown
At first, this may seem like an uninteresting detail: Mr. Pibb started off brown but quickly changed it to a red color (even though it still looks kind of brown). But the reason why may seem a bit surprising.
The Coca-Cola Company premiered our soda in question in 1972 as a brown colored soft drink. An article from The New York Times in 1973 said its advertising promised the new drink was not a cola, not a root beer, but instead offered: "It goes down good." The original slogan. But the soda was soon switched to red because Coke was worried people would think it was in fact a root beer rip off instead of a Dr Pepper rip off. In other words, Coke wanted to make it obvious this was a spicy cherry drink.
The change was made in 1975, after Coke performed some consumer preference research. It’s not as crimson as Big Red or anything, but the rosy hue is distinct enough. This was just an aesthetic change, as Coke didn’t start fooling with the formula till later. In 1980, the taste was redesigned, which was pushed with the "New Taste" promotional materials. Then again in 2001, when the whole thing became Pibb Xtra anyway.
Mr. Pibb was actually discontinued in 2001
Originally, each can of Mr. Pibb was stamped with the description "Blended Flavored (Cherry and Other Flavorings) Carbonated Beverage." Now, the drink is marketed as "an intensely flavored, refreshing, spicy cherry alternative to regular cola" (via Pibb Xtra).
The difference is cinnamon, which Coca-Cola says creates a bolder flavor, which is why Mr. Pibb is now called Pibb Xtra — for extra flavoring (via How Stuff Compares). With that, Pibb Xtra officially usurped Mr. Pibb in 2001 in most markets across the United States.
This wasn’t everyone’s favorite decision. A blogger at The Plain Cheese, who practically lived on Mr. Pibb while attending college in the late ’90s and early 2000s, has even waxed sadly on about how Pibb Xtra is not at all as good as her beloved Mr. Pibb — prompting her to save one can in her fridge (which may still be there to this day). And yes, there is a petition on Change.org to bring back the original Mr. Pibb.
Mr. Pibb had a search for the PiBB Girl contest
The Coca-Cola Company started something of a manhunt — or, a woman hunt — in 1980 for the "PiBB Girl." Mr. Pibb fans were called on to search their own communities for a chance to win between $5,000 and $10,000 if they spotted the woman in the promotional materials. There were buttons, display ads, and even T-shirts — "I’m a PiBB Girl" shirts were given to women and "I’m a PiBB Girl Watcher" to men (via Pibb Thug). The material was mailed to American high schools, college fraternities and sororities, supermarkets, convenience stores, and fast-food joints for display.
There were two problems, however, with the contest. The woman in the ads didn’t exist. Her face was a mashup of celebrities, with Pam Dawber’s hair, Debbie Boone’s mouth, Susan Anton’s eyes, Kristy McNichol’s nose, and Melissa Sue Anderson’s face shape. In other words, all white women.
Ten finalists were to be judged in New Orleans, but a Pibb Girl was never selected. Coca-Cola stopped the contest since, as one school principal Reverend Christian Reuter pointed out, the campaign was "blatantly racist, unenlightened and demeaning to all women (via Jet)."
A bottle of Mr. Pibb is selling on eBay for $125
A slightly crumpled but fully official 16.9-ounce plastic bottle of Mr. Pibb, not Pibb Xtra, is available on eBay. It’s sporting the ’90s logo, it’s never been opened, and it comes with free economy shipping from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There are two catches — the soda is expired, and the price tag is $125. If clicking that "Buy Now" button will blow your vintage soda collection budget, there are other options.
A steel soda can of Mr. Pibb, complete with the slogan, "It Goes Down Good," will run you $25. The can is bottom emptied, a common practice in selling canned, vintage items. (That way, the soda can or whatever still appears full, not opened and emptied, like garbage.)
Other Mr. Pibb items heavy on eBay include lavender-colored cans of the sugar-free Mr. Pibb, full glass bottles of the soda sporting the ’70s logo, and even a neat-looking retro Mr. Pibb clock. And you know there’s some fan art on Etsy, too.
There’s a good amount of Mr. Pibb memorabilia out there
Though Mr. Pibb started as a marketing ploy meant to compete against another peppery pop, it’s still been around for nearly 50 years — and about 30 as Mr. Pibb proper. That means there are a lot of fans out there, and a lot of collectibles from throughout the decades.
One website, called Pibb Thug, is dedicated entirely to this saga, and has a fantastic archive of Mr. Pibb memorabilia. A good example of this thorough catalog is the page dedicated to buttons and pins sporting the different generations of logos and catchphrases. Many slogans have been stamped on a pin pushing Mr. Pibb, including "It Goes Down Good," "Have a PiBB, Mister," and "Put it in Your Head."
There’s also a collection of memorabilia dedicated to the relationship between Mr. Pibb and the racecar driver and stuntman Joie Chitwood, better known as the star of the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Mr. Pibb was usually pushed by a full-page ad on the back of the Thrill Show’s program. There were also toys, including the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show Mr. Pibb cannon and trailer jump set — many of which you can still find on eBay.
Dr Pepper sales actually increased because of Mr. Pibb
While we’re not trying to say Mr. Pibb was created disingenuously, it is fair to acknowledge the stuff as the Coca-Cola Company’s answer to the success of Dr Pepper. And while Mr. Pibb and Pibb Xtra have had their successes, Coke probably isn’t thrilled by what may be the overall result: Over time, Pibb has boosted Pepper’s sales.
In 1973, Texas Monthly interviewed Woodrow Wilson Clements, Dr Pepper’s company president at the time. When the "relaxed, confident" president was quizzed about Mr. Pibb, he goes on to say, "Better to let sleeping dogs lie … Our sales have actually improved since Mr. Pibb came along." Two years later, D Magazine profiled the same man. "Mr. PiBB has just stimulated the taste for Dr Pepper," he said. "In fact, we’ve found that whenever they quit giving it away in big promotions their share of the market drops way down."
In 2019, Keurig Dr Pepper pulled in roughly $11.12 billion U.S. in net sales worldwide — if that’s any indication of where things stand now.
Mr. Pibb fans are serious about their soda
For whatever reason, large companies retiring soft drinks and snacks brings out the hard fanatics in us. Mr. Pibb getting phased out 2001 is no exception. Even Pibb Xtra has stirred up some lives.
There’s the woman with the years old sole can of Mr. Pibb living in her fridge. There’s the guy who started the petition on Change.org to bring back the original formula. Then there’s the guy in Kansas.
Matt Riedl is an arts and entertainment reporter at The Wichita Eagle, and this guy is definitely a devoted Pibb head. For "work," Riedl wrote about how Pibb Xtra, not Mr. Pibb, is actually hard to find in metro Wichita. However, using the Pibb Xtra website locator feature, Riedl was given a list, type of treasure map to Pibb retailers. He documents his interviews and purchases of the stuff at some unexpected merchants — like smoke shops and a dry cleaner. Yet, another example of Pibb fans stopping at nothing, or very little.
Mr. Pibb is one of dozens of Dr Pepper rip offs
Of course, you can’t tell the story of Mr. Pibb without bringing up Dr Pepper again and again. But it’s Mr. Pibb’s own fault, since it was actually created as a knockoff soft drink to compete with the well-established buzzy cherry-flavored soda. But, as we all know, Mr. Pibb isn’t the other Dr Pepper rip off. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of dollar-store versions out there.
The Linger Longer, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor in Bennington, Kansas, has been collecting Dr Pepper antiques and memorabilia (totaling more than 2,000 pieces to date) for years, including cans and bottles — evidence of known imposters. They even took the time to list all the displayed knockoffs on their website, totaling more than 230 pieces by our count.
Obvious ones include Dr Slice, Doc Shasta, and Dr Thunder. Others get a little sillier, like Dr Kooper Syrup, Dr. Cheaper, Dr. Gulpster, and Dr Becker (no relation to Ted Danson). But there are of course Mr. Pibb rips, including Mr. Lizard, Mr ahhh!, and Mr. Pig from Piggly Wiggly. And yes, they do have a 10-ounce glass bottle of Peppo.
McDonald’s dumped Pibb Xtra for Dr Pepper in 2009
You can always count on products from the Coca Cola Company at McDonald’s. Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, even a bottle of Dasani water. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s customer relationship goes back to a handshake deal in 1955. Which is why it was all the sadder when McDonald’s dumped Pibb Xtra for Dr Pepper in 2009.
At the time of the announcement in April of that year, Dr Pepper was on tap at 8,500 McDonald’s locations. But, Dr Pepper Snapple promised, their product would soon be installed at all 14,000 (at the time) in the United States. Karen Wells, vice president of U.S. strategy and menu for McDonald’s said it was more about the chain "becoming a beverage destination." Meaning more variety in tandem with the McCafe coffee drinks.
But Pibb Xtra was not alone in its banishment. Powerade also got the boot. According to the Pibb Xtra product locator, the spicy cherry soda still has a presence in some fast casual eateries. Carriers include Fatburger, Chipotle, and Del Taco.
Sure, you can also drink Pibb Xtra hot
From what we’ve gathered, hot Dr Pepper hit the scene in the 1960s as a way to stabilize soda sales during the colder months. According to the company’s website, you must "Heat Dr Pepper in a saucepan to 180 degrees, place a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of a coffee mug or insulated cup and pour the heated Dr Pepper over the lemon." And yes, lemon is key (via The Dallas Morning News). But can you do the same with Mr. Pibb, or, ahem Pibb Xtra? Sure, why not?
Pibb Xtra has the same flavor profile, only with a little cinnamon, which only makes a hot cup of it sound all the more autumnal, or ideal for a winter’s night. While you won’t necessarily find recipes devoted to this particular version, a Serious Eats writer likened the Dr Pepper version to a hot cider, or "thick, sweet tea." But, like we’ve suggested, maybe the Pepper and/or Pibb version could use a little doctoring — like a shot of whiskey.
Pibb Xtra has been MIA
Those who went through the trial of accepting Mr. Pibb’s fate in 2001 and learned to love Pibb Xtra for the soda it truly is must now be feeling pangs of post-traumatic stress. These days, Pibb Xtra has been quietly becoming a hard-to-find item. But Pibb heads can relax — it’s pandemic related.
Grocery stores may be running low on a few flavors thanks to a shortage of aluminum cans. In the United States, we’ve been sitting home, and apparently sipping soda (and beer and whatever else). Major soft drink and beer companies are apparently struggling to keep up with sales of products packaged in aluminum cans (via Eat This, Not That!).
The Coca-Cola Company is reporting major shortages in 2020 of Pibb Xtra and Cherry Coke (via Slate) as well as Vanilla Coke, caffeine-free Coke, and Fresca (via MSN). But it’s not because Pibb Xtra is such a hot seller, it’s because due to the shortage, the Coca-Cola has had to prioritize best-sellers, leaving cult-favorites like our spicy friend out in the cold (via Eat This, Not That!). One consumer, in typical Pibb head fashion, even reached out on Twitter demanding answers.
Mr. Pibb had its own video game
A decade before McDonald’s broke up with Mr. Pibb (actually, Pibb Xtra) in 2009 in favor of Dr Pepper, the burger chain was the sole provider of the Mr. Pibb video game.
Mr. Pibb: The 3D Interactive Game was a first-person shooter video game for the DOS platform developed by BrandGames in 1998. It was distributed by The Coca-Cola Company and was apparently only available at McDonald’s (meaning 750,000 copies were released on floppy disk).
The concept was totally simple: It’s the first day of school, but a mad scientist has infected all your friends and teachers, turning them into zombies. However, your Pibby burps somehow contain the antidote. If you burp at them many times, emitting a gaseous purple cloud (the shooter part), you can turn them back into the cool kids, pointdexters, and female teachers that seem to be this school’s only population. If they attack first, your life source is drained, and it’s game over. Luckily, fountain drink-style cups of Mr. Pibb are scattered throughout the halls, giving you more eructing power. Use the provided megaphone, and oh boy, they’re in trouble.
And just so you don’t lose focus, a high-pitched voice saying the at-the-time slogan, "Put it in your head," was sprinkled throughout the score.