Obituary: Founder of iconic French soda Orangina
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Jean-Claude Beton, the Algerian-born Frenchman who made Orangina a global brand rivalling American soft drink giants, died on Monday in Marseille, age 88.
French political and business leaders rushed to pay homage to the businessman who concocted a citrusy beverage, poured it into his iconic round bottle, and built an empire that rivalled American soft-drink giants.
"We have lost an entrepreneur who helped Marseille shine across the world,” Jacques Pfister, the president of the city’s chamber of commerce and the former CEO of Orangina-Schweppes, said on Tuesday. “He was a communications genius.”
Secret recipe goes global
The Orangina recipe was bought by Breton’s father Léon from a Spanish pharmacist called Dr. Trigo in 1935, but the outbreak of war in Europe hampered the brand’s expansion.
Beton took over the company from his father in 1947. He dusted off the secret recipe, fine-tuned the iconic curvy bottle inspired by the shape of an orange, and four years later launched the brand in France.
Mass production of Orangina began in French-ruled Algeria and quickly conquered North Africa.
With the Algerian war for independence threatening to derail the business, Beton moved operations to Marseille in 1962.
France’s Mediterranean city would prove to be Orangina’s springboard to the rest of the continent and the world. Catchy, original and often off-beat advertisements, and Beton’s enduring faith in the round bottle, are often credited for the brand’s success.
After a successful run, Beton sold the brand to the French beverage firm Pernod-Ricard in 1984, and devoted himself to other ventures, purchasing olive groves and a wine-making chateau.
But Orangina would continue to make history, famously eluding a buyout from Coca-Cola in the late 1990s.
Coca-Cola’s offer to buy the company in 1997 for 5 billion francs, roughly 1 billion euros in today’s money, was rejected following concerns by the French government over unfair competition in the domestic market. A second bid the following year also fell though.
In 1999 Pernot-Ricard’s board of directors put a definitive end to Coca-Cola’s move to acquire the famous French drink.
The company was subsequently bought and sold several times starting in 2001, ultimately ending up in Japanese hands.
Last year the Orangina Schweppes group counted 1.2 billion euros in turnover and employed 2,500 people worldwide.