Diane and Dan Hartwig, center right, own and operate Twig’s Beverages with their son Lucas, left, his wife Alex, grandson Ezra, and son Ben. Their other son, Jacob, stands behind them on the right. The Business News photo by Nathan Falk

The bubbly goodness known as Twig’s soft drinks continue to be a fan favorite as the brand enters its eighth decade in existence.

If anything, the brand’s popularity just keeps growing as young generations enjoy the handcrafted sodas.

Twig’s Beverages got its start in 1951 and is now a third-generation family affair with Dan and Diane Hartwig, as well as their sons Lucas, Jacob and Ben Hartwig. Twig’s creates, bottles and distributes soft drinks from its 920 S. Franklin St., Shawano location that is also home to a museum, gift shop and taste-testing counter. It’s all housed on the original site of the business created by Floyd Hartwig, better known as “Twig,” who had the idea to start a beverage company when he was serving in the Korean War. At the time, he sent his military checks home to purchase glass soda bottles and bottling equipment so that when he returned, he could create craft sodas bottled in real glass.

“We continue to be committed to keeping old-fashioned traditions alive by making products with real sugar and real flavoring,” said Lucas, Twig’s grandson and vice president of operations. “Part of it is the water here, but we are rare in using granulated sugar, where we have to put it in by hand, and the glass bottle which has a nostalgic feel to it.”

That nostalgic feel adds up to 150,000 cases of Twig’s and Sun Drop soda each year. In the company’s beginning, flavors included Bullseye Rootbeer and Goody Orange, the predecessors to the iconic flavors known today as root beer, grape, orange and black cherry.

It was in the 1950s that the creator of Sun Drop, the “Golden Cola,” needed a place to produce and distribute his soda, and Floyd Hartwig agreed to become one of the bottlers for the citrus-flavored favorite.

“Today, our territory for Sun Drop is mostly in Northeastern Wisconsin and a bit of the UP,” Lucas said. Twig’s and Sun Drop are primarily regional favorites sold through grocery stores and restaurants with many of them in the local area serving as sites for returnables of the bottles (in the last few years, the company has begun providing Twig’s soft drinks in nonreturnable glass as well).

However, there’s a lot more in the works. In June, the company introduced a new development: canned Twig’s soda in Forget Me Not Grape, orange, black cherry and root beer flavors. That was one of Hartwig’s personal ideas. To make it happen, they work with a mobile canning company that brings its machinery in, wheels it into the company’s bottling line, hooks up to their system and batches soda as Twig’s normally would except on their canning line.

“We went this route as a way to get Twig’s soda into events and venues that don’t allow glass as there’s high liability with that,” Lucas said. “That’s the impetus for canning our products — so we can get into venues that allow only plastic or aluminum.”

Another shift in how they do business is that they are slowly outsourcing distribution of their soft drinks.

In 2015, we put in a new bottling line that does exclusively non-returnable products, which allowed us to grow the product line and add new flavors as we went.

—Lucas Hartwig,

vice president of operations,

Twig’s Beverages, Shawano

“We’re finding that, as our manufacturing grows, it makes less sense to try to do everything here,” Lucas said. “We like the smaller retail side but want to focus on manufacturing because it’s what we know well and do best. We’d rather let other companies who do distribution best control our products’ distribution.”

Finally, since Twig’s owns the rights to the full Twig’s line, they can work to distribute in more grocery stores, gift shops and restaurants.

“In 2015, we put in a new bottling line that does exclusively non-returnable products, which allowed us to grow the product line and add new flavors as we went,” Lucas said. “As we shift from distribution to a focus on manufacturing, we also can focus on marketing and growing where Twig’s is available.”

A small part of that marketing is the on-site museum established in 2015, which Hartwig has found attracts a lot of people including summer tourists who boost Shawano’s population by double in the summer.

The museum features its own bottling line and a walk down memory lane including antique photos, “The Sun Drop Movie” and official Sun Drop memorabilia.

The company’s social media is a great representation of the brands as well (both Twig’s and Sun Drop) as are its support of Sun Drop Dayz (including locally-recognized Golden Girl) who does promotional work for the company. The company is also creating more specialized roles for staff in human resources, inventory management, ordering, co packing, food safety and innovation in the organizational chart, he said.

Today, Lucas’s father, Dan Hartwig, owns the business and works alongside family members and about 25 additional staff to take the company to the next level.

“We’re very fortunate to be in this community as we’re very supported by it,” said Hartwig. “We’d be nothing without all the local customers and companies that support us.”