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Minnesota native instrumental in Coca-Cola’s decision to bring back ’90s soda Surge

FARGO, N.D. -- Matt Winans is an insurgent of the citrus kind. The Minnesota native, now living in Fargo, didn't mean to start a beverage revolution. But over the course of seven years, he helped convince Coca-Cola to bring back Surge more than a...

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Matt Winans and the staff of Viking Coca-Cola celebrate the return of Surge at Viking’s headquarters in St. Cloud. Behind the banner, from left, are: Dave Yates, vice president of sales; Winans; and Darin Carlson, sales director. (Special to Forum News Service)

FARGO, N.D. - Matt Winans is an insurgent of the citrus kind.
The Minnesota native, now living in Fargo, didn’t mean to start a beverage revolution. But over the course of seven years, he helped convince Coca-Cola to bring back Surge more than a decade after it was discontinued.
The “fully loaded citrus soda” is showing up in convenience stores and supermarkets in Minnesota (including Duluth), North and South Dakota, 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.
‘Cult following’

Winans, a native of Fergus Falls, Minn., 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 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.
Hometown hero

Starting last week, Midwest residents could 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.
Carlson got the mayor of Fergus Falls to declare last Thursday “Matt Winans Day,” with festivities at four stores in town celebrating the return of Surge. A lunch was set to 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.
Not done yet

Winans won a major battle, though Surge won’t be available in the western United States and parts of New England quite yet. Still, he has no plans to back down from his soda work.
He earned a graphic communications degree and initially did freelance Web development. Once he found out Surge was coming back, he stopped taking on new clients, instead focusing on his beloved soda.
Winans would like to continue his Surge efforts and make it his job, though he said he hasn’t made any money yet from his work with the Surge Movement page.
But he’s received more than enough reimbursement in the form of private Facebook messages, emails and in-person conversations from fellow lovers of the ’90s soda.
“I’ve given this example before, but you feel good when you open a door for someone,” he said. “You definitely feel good about what you’re doing when people acknowledge your help for doing what you’re doing. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if people didn’t showcase their appreciation.”

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More than a decade after the last cans were produced, citrus soda Surge is coming back in a big way thanks to years of work on the part of a local man, Fergus Falls native and Fargo resident Matt Winans.Dave Wallis / The Forum
The Sunmart grocery store in Fergus Falls, Minn., has a large display of Surge. (Dave Wallis / Forum News Service)

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Since joining The Forum's staff in 2012, he has also reported on several beats, including higher education, business and features. Readers can reach him at 218-791-9610 or rmjohnson@forumcomm.com
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