Fargo man essential in cult-favorite soda resurgence

September 8, 2015

Fargo man essential in cult-favorite soda resurgence

Matt Winans is an insurgent of the citrus kind.

Starting today, the "fully loaded citrus soda" will start to show up in convenience stores and supermarkets in Fargo-Moorhead, the Dakotas, Minnesota and most of the eastern United States.

Winans knows his stuff about Surge, a beverage with low carbonation and "just the tiniest hint of orange." Maltodextrin, a food additive, mixes with the citrus to produce a "bold" flavor, he said.

The 26-year-old can recite from memory obscure details, such as the artists who designed the can labels and the fact its code name was "MDK" (Mountain Dew Killer).

But he didn't set out to become a Surge booster, at least not like this.

Winans was 13 when Surge was discontinued in 2003.

Five years later, Facebook started allowing users to create fan pages. Winans, then a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead, wanted Surge to show up in his list of "likes," but there wasn't a Surge page yet so he made one.

Without any effort, strangers by the hundreds, then thousands, began liking the page.

"It was like an intrinsic cult following," he said.

Things escalated in late 2011 when Californian Evan Carr founded the Surge Movement Facebook page. Winans realized the stranger could make better use of the 8,000 online followers he had amassed, and Carr jumped at the opportunity.

Another Surge devotee, Sean Sheridan of Murphy, Texas, was brought on as a fellow administrator, and the three watched Surge Movement explode to more than 18,000 followers. It currently has about 250,000 "likes."

In 2013, the trio raised $4,000 and bought a billboard near Coca-Cola's Atlanta headquarters with a simple message: "Dear Coke, We couldn't buy Surge so we bought this billboard instead."

Winans' parents were "concerned" about his supposedly lost cause, he said, but he knew better.

"About halfway through, it actually occurred to me that it wasn't a possibility that Surge was coming back; I said, 'It is coming back,' like there's no way that we're not going to win," he said.

His devotion paid off Sept. 15, 2014, when Surge was back exclusively on Amazon.com. The online retailer sold out within 90 minutes.

Starting Tuesday, locals can again buy 16-ounce cans of Surge at participating stores — an accomplishment that earned the respect of Darin Carlson, sales director of the Viking Coca-Cola Bottling Co. that has 10 locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Matt Winans has spent a ridiculous amount of time on the Surge brand," he said. "I'm in the beverage business and I feel like he's outworking me."

After realizing a local was involved, Carlson connected with Winans, a native of Fergus Falls, Minn.

Carlson got the mayor of Fergus Falls to declare Thursday "Matt Winans Day," with festivities at four stores in town celebrating the return of Surge. A lunch will raise money for the local food shelf.

It was a "significant task" to convince Coca-Cola, he said. It's the first time since the company was founded in 1886 that it has revived a discontinued product.

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