Making Dr Pepper

NAME: David Thomas | AGE: 48 | HOME: Frisco | QUALIFICATIONS: Senior vice president of research and development at Dr Pepper Snapple Group / Holder of fifteen patents in ingredient and product technology / Ph.D. in food science with an emphasis in flavor biochemistry

You know that Dr Pepper has this “Trust me, I’m a Dr” advertising campaign? Well, in fact, when it comes to the flavor of Dr Pepper, you can trust me, because I am a doctor.

I always loved science as a kid, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. It was an eye-opening moment when I realized that I could use science in the multibillion-dollar food industry. It dawned on me that people will always have to eat and drink.

I drank my first Dr Pepper when I was a young boy growing up in Wisconsin. I fell in love with it, and I remember watching those commercials with David Naughton dancing around and singing “Be a Pepper.” It’s destiny that I grew up to have this job.

People don’t realize the amount of science that it takes to get a product on the shelf. It requires microbiology, chemistry, flavor chemistry, package engineering, and sensory research.

I’m one of only three people who know the 23 flavors that make Dr Pepper. It’s one of the oldest secret formulas in the country. When I go into the vault at the headquarters, in Plano—yes, we keep the formula in a vault—I feel a little like James Bond. And no, I can’t tell you even one of the flavors.

Dr Pepper is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and while I think it’s fair to say that the drink has evolved over the years, its essence remains the same.

From a scientific standpoint, when someone opens a Dr Pepper, there should be a marriage of complex ingredients that creates a unique flavor profile. From a non-scientific standpoint, I hope that people take a drink and have that “ahh” factor.

I’m a regular Dr Pepper fan, and it doesn’t matter to me if it’s in a can or a bottle.

This job can be a huge rush. I had the chance to help ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the anniversary, and David Naughton sang on the floor of the exchange. And when we did a promotion with Snapple on Celebrity Apprentice, I got to meet Donald Trump and Bret Michaels at the after-party.

When I’m out for dinner with my family and I see someone drinking another brand, it always pains me. I think to myself, “Do these people know what they’re missing?” I almost want to go up to them and pour them a glass myself and say, “Taste this. How can you not love it?”

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