Northern Neck Foundation (NNF), a new nonprofit organization that’s on a mission to save Northern Neck Ginger Ale, picked up formal support from three local governments last Thursday, including Northumberland County, Richmond County, and Warsaw.
NNF’s mission and reason
The organization’s members have been approaching local governments, but they aren’t looking for money, NNF director of operations Kathy Clarke explained during her presentation to Richmond County Board of Supervisors. What they want is “a simple resolution recognizing the cultural icon status of Northern Neck Ginger Ale, a demonstration of how much it means to each of us,” she said.
“We share not only a passion for Northern Neck Ginger Ale but a community passion as well,” she continued. “Since Coke took Northern Neck Ginger Ale off of the shelves back in 2020, there has been an outcry, not only in our region, but around the state, the country, the world, actually, in support of bringing it back.”
One of NNF’s goals is preserving cultural icons. “That’s basically what we feel Northern Neck Ginger Ale is,” said Clarke.
She noted that over the years, there have been several attempts to have Coca-Cola bring Northern Neck Ginger Ale back to the shelves voluntarily. Several “individuals with blank checks” have also offered to buy the soda. But “neither of those attempts have been successful.”
“So our perspective is if they are not willing to bring it back and they’re not willing to sell it. Then, in essence, their dream and their vision of Northern Neck Ginger Ale is that it would die. That it would exist no longer. And that might not mean a whole lot to corporate decision makers in Atlanta, Georgia but here in the Northern Neck, it means a lot,” Clarke said.
She noted that the individuals behind the organization have put a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears into this mission. Save Northern Neck Ginger Ale was an effort launched by Stephanie Johnson, a King George resident. She launched a Facebook group, which has grown to over 7,000 members.
Last month, NNF was established with the intention that the organization will have a five-member board of directors. Currently that includes Clarke, a Richmond County native, Johnson who is director of community outreach, King George native Savannah Carabin who is director of business development and Chip Jones, a Westmoreland native serving a multidisciplinary director. The fifth director slot is vacant.
“The fuel for this is the outcry from our citizens and community. This is something they feel very passionate about,” Clarke said, as have other members of the group.
A petition/survey for the Save Northern Neck Ginger Ale initiative has attracted over 1,500 responses from across 30 states and six counties.
Over 80% of those respondents have direct ties to the Northern Neck, according to data from NNF. Further, over 200 people have expressed interest in investing, “although we have asked for no money,” Clarke added.
Local government support
In addition to the three government bodies added last week, the effort already picked up support from King George, Westmoreland, and Montross.
The resolutions these governments passed recognize Northern Neck Ginger Ale as a cultural icon, a tourism draw, and a unifying symbol of the Northern Neck. They urge those who enjoy the beverage to contact Coca-Cola and urge other localities to adopt similar resolutions.
The path ahead
NNF’s next step is to work to garner more support at the local, state, and national levels. “We need their help in pushing this forward. We need their resources as far as access to departments and agencies that can help us create and negotiate a conversation with Coca-Cola,” said Clarke.
The organization is also seeking applications for an advisory council, which will provide guidance to the NNF board. From those applications, NNF is also hoping to find the fifth director.
Longer-term plans include seeking official 501(c)(3) status for the organization and tapping Virginia’s economic and tourism boards to facilitate a negotiation between Coca-Cola and NNF.
Clarke said Coca-Cola has a huge community engagement arm and NNF would like to see Coca-Cola donate the branding and production rights for Northern Neck Ginger Ale to NNF in return for a tax credit.
If that effort is successful NNF plans to contract the branding and production rights out. “Northern Neck Foundation would not be responsible for producing the product. We would just be responsible for holding the licensing,” Clarke explained.
NNF wants the donation and licensing arrangement because they don’t want to fight for the soda’s survival again in the future. Clarke explained that even if Coca-Cola decided to bring the soda back, five years from now if sales weren’t where the company wanted them to be everyone could be back in the position where they are today.