This Day in Jewish History

2012: The Death of New York's Iced Tea Mogul

Arnold Greenberg went from humble Lower East Side deli owner to multimillionaire co-owner of Snapple drinks company in the 1970s and '80s.

Wikimedia Commons

On October 26, 2012, Arnold Greenberg – part of the trio of New York working-class men who founded and built the company that makes the Snapple line of soft drinks – died, of cancer, at the age of 80. At its peak, in the early 1990s, Snapple was the leading purveyor of bottled iced tea in America, selling more than either Lipton or Nestea.

Arnold Shepard Greenberg was born on September 2, 1932, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in that borough’s Brownsville section. His father owned a delicatessen across the river, on the Lower East Side, selling items like smoked salmon and dilled pickles. By the time Arnold was in his 20s, he was running the store.

In the late 1960s, Greenberg saw that the neighborhood’s demographics were shifting, with Ashkenazi Jews being replaced by younger people with different tastes, and he retooled his business as a health-food store.

It was in 1972 that Greenberg hooked up with Leonard Marsh, who had been a classmate of his at Samuel J. Tilden High School, and Marsh’s brother-in-law, Hyman Golden, to pursue an idea of producing fruit juices for sale to food stores. None of the men gave up his day job; Marsh and Golden continued operating the window-washing business they co-owned. Years later, Marsh told Crain’s New York Business that when the three had started the company they called Unadulterated Food Products – which also marketed eggs and fresh produce – he “knew as much about juice as about making an atom bomb.”

And indeed, success did not come overnight, and there were mistakes – most famously when the carbonated apple drink they made fermented in the bottle and the caps began blowing off the bottles. But the “snappy” apple juice inspired them to choose a name for their beverage, and when they discovered that the rights to the name “Snapple” was owned by a company in Texas, they bought the trademark from it – for $500.

The decision to go with natural ingredients only came in the late 1970s. Iced tea was added to the Snapple lineup in 1987; they bottled it while the tea was still hot, and sold it in quirky flavors with funny names (Greenberg told CBS News in 1994 that other names considered for their Guava Mania drink were Guava Vavoom and Guava Nagila). Now it was sales that exploded, with revenues rising from $24 million in 1989 to $674 million five years later. Snapple built up a network of 300 bottlers and distributors in every state in the Union.

The company and its products have always been good at cultivating a consumer-friendly image, and their cute marketing gimmicks (such as “real facts” on the inside of bottle caps) have endeared them to many. In 2003, Snapple drinks were declared New York City’s “official beverage,” which gave them exclusive access to vending machines in public schools – even though the non-diet flavors have more added sugar than a 12-ounce can of Coke.

Greenberg (the company’s chief operating office), Marsh and Golden got out while the going was good. In 1992, they sold ownership of the company to a private-equity firm (for $140 million), which then took Snapple public a year later. A year after that, Quaker Oats bought up all the company’s shares for $1.7 billion. Each of these moves netted the men significant personal profits. Greenberg and Golden both retired then, although Marsh stayed on as head of planning for several years.

Quaker expected to integrate Snapple into its highly profitable Gatorade division, but the fit was not a comfortable one, to put it mildly. Twenty-seven months after picking up Snapple, Quaker unloaded the company for $300 million, less than 20 percent of what it had paid. Today, Snapple is owned by the Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

Golden died in 2008 and Marsh in 2013.