Do you know what Pepsi is? For sure, most people know Pepsi is a soda kind of like Coca Cola. But if you are asked, “What does Pepsi stand for?” Most likely not many people (including myself) can answer this question. Moreover, the official website of PepsiCo only states as below:
In 1898, small-town pharmacist Caleb D. Bradham looked for a name that would better describe his formula — which he was selling under the name “Brad’s Drink.” He bought the name “Pep Kola” from a local competitor and changed it to Pepsi-Cola.
So, this is pretty much it. PepsiCo’s explanation left a mystery; how did Pep Kola become Pepsi? What does Pepsi stand for?
But looking back in time into the origin of Pepsi can be a clue to finding out what Pepsi may stand for. Now let’s find out—what does Pepsi stand for? It is a mere speculation, and just for fun!
Humble Beginnings as Brad’s Drink at a Drugstore | 1893
Pepsi rose from humble beginnings at a drugstore owned by Caleb Davis Bradham in North Carolina before winning the position as the most famous American soda brand. In 1893, America was going into an economic depression. In the same year, this American pharmacist invented syrup mixed with soda. He initially introduced this fizzy drink as “Brad’s Drink,” selling at his pharmacy. A fizzy drink at a drugstore? Oddly enough, Caleb created it as a digestive aid.
In the late 19th century, soda drinks were believed to be a health drink. For instance, Atlanta pharmacist John Stith Pemberton invented Coca-Cola a few years earlier. This Coca-Cola was advertised as a health drink to relieve mental and physical exhaustion.
So, Brad’s Drink was also one of them. Caleb advertised his special drink to help indigestion and boost energy. Originally, Brad’s Drink was soda drink that included a mix of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, kola nuts, nutmeg, and other additives.
Brad’s Drink Was Renamed Pepsi-Cola | 1898
Putting aside whether the drink actually helped indigestion or not, his drink soon gained popularity. In 1898, he decided to give the drink a more compelling name. Finally, he settled in “Pepsi-Cola.” We cannot be sure how he ended up selecting this name. So, let’s just speculate from the drink’s (expected) effect.
A digestive aid—this can be a clue about roots of “Pepsi.” Brad’s Drink was sold as a remedy for dyspepsia or indigestion. One theory on Pepsi’s name is Pepsi referred to dys-pepsi-a. Another theory is Pepsi referred to pepsin which is the digestive enzyme.
Anyways, Bradham founded the Pepsi-Cola Company in 1902, selling Pepsi-Cola to pharmacies and other venders throughout North Carolina. In 1903, he trademarked Pepsi-Cola. His business kept growing and expanding until the early 1920s when sugar prices fluctuated soon after the World War I.
Pepsi Company Entered 1st Bankruptcy | 1923
Fluctuating sugar prices affected businesses across the country, and his business was no exception. In 1923, the Pepsi-Cola Company went bankrupt. Craven Holding Corporation purchased its assets including Pepsi-Cola recipe for $30,000. Consequently, Caleb no longer ran the business; he returned to his pharmacy and died in 1934.
By the way, we can find a typescript of original Pepsi Cola formula obtained during this bankruptcy in East Carolina University’s digital archives. According to the typescript, Pepsi-Cola formula included the following.
- Sugar- Standard Confectioners A 7500 pounds
- Water, sufficient quantity to 1200 gallons
- Caramel – burned sugar color 12 gallons
- Lime Juice 12 gallons
- Phosphoric Acid S.G. 1.750 58 pounds
- Alcohol 1/2/gallon
- Oil Lemon 6 fluid ounces
- Oil Orange 5 fluid ounces
- Cinnamon Oil 4 fluid ounces
- Oil Nutmeg 2 fluid ounces
- Oil Coriander 2 fluid ounces
- Oil Petit Grain 1 fluid ounces.
Feel like trying this old recipe? Well, do it on your own risk!
Pepsi Company Declared 2nd Bankruptcy | 1931
Following the first bankruptcy, a Wall Street broker Roy Megargel bought the business, trademark, and goodwill for $35,000. He then formed the National Pepsi-Cola Company. However, this parent company also went bankrupt in 1931.
This time, Charles Guth purchased the Pepsi-Cola Company personally, who was the president of the Loft Candy Company. The Loft Candy Company was the world’s leading candy manufacturer at the time, operating stores and restaurants that sold Coca-Cola. But when Guth asked for a discount on Coca-Cola, The Coca-Cola declined.
At that time, Pepsi-Cola was cheaper—this wise man came up with an idea. With the help of Loft’s chemists, Guth reformulated the recipe of Pepsi Cola and promoted Pepsi using Loft’s resources. Then he replaced Coca Cola with Pepsi Cola at Loft’s stores, himself selling Pepsi to Loft.
However, this wasn’t exactly a good deed as the Loft president, was it? In 1939, Loft filed a lawsuit against Guth who apparently used his position for his private interests. This law case “Guth vs Loft Inc.” subsequently defined today’s corporate opportunities and duty of loyalty. In 1941, Loft won the suit and merged Pepsi brand, rebranding the company as Pepsi-Cola Company.
Marketing of Pepsi-Cola flourished around this era. Pepsi-Cola advertisements were on radio and television, using catchy jingles in many different forms. In 1961, Pepsi-Cola was shortened to Pepsi.
The Foundation of PepsiCo | 1965
In 1965, the Pepsi-Cola Company and Frito-Lay, Inc. merged to found PepsiCo. Ever since its foundation, PepsiCo expanded businesses through multiple acquisition and spin-off.
Today, PepsiCo is one of the world’s largest food and beverage powerhouses along with The Coca-Cola Company. PepsiCo currently sells not only the famous cola, but also many other products including Lay’s chips, Doritos, and Mountain Dew.
Summing up: What Does Pepsi Stand for?
An American pharmacist Caleb Davis Bradham invented Pepsi in 1893 as a health fountain drink to help indigestion. Initially, he named it Brad’s Drink. As the drink grew popular, he changed the name to a more compelling one. PepsiCo’s official website mentions:
He bought the name “Pep Kola” from a local competitor and changed it to Pepsi-Cola.
There is no other official explanation than this for what does Pepsi stand for. As a result, the mystery of Pepsi has spurred people into imagination and speculation. While drinking this fizzy drink, we keep wondering— “So what does Pepsi stand for?”
Maybe Caleb renamed the health drink after its effect on dyspepsia. Or maybe it referred to pepsin, a digestive enzyme, as he expected the drink to work like it.
We cannot be certain about what Pepsi means with Caleb gone today. But one thing is certain. Above all, Pepsi won people’s heart around the world; it became one of the world’s most valuable brands from a humble health drink sold at a local drugstore in North Carolina!