Leslie Gibbs, who was the director of brand management, licensing, and product development at Bonne Bell from1999 to 2012, believes one reason for the popularity of Dr Pepper Lip Smacker was due to its appeal to a wide age range, not just young girls, but older folks who appreciated the soda flavor as well. “We had many [popular flavors]. Strawberry was iconic. Vanilla was iconic. Watermelon was up there. But Dr Pepper was always our top selling SKU,” she says. Jill Sherman, another former Bonne Bell employee who worked in product development for the company in the 2000s, says that the formula for the Dr Pepper Lip Smacker was unique in itself. “Most flavors tend to turn when you’re adding paraffins and waxes and other things to create the balm, and Dr Pepper holds up,” she says. “It tasted exactly the same, and I’m not sure why.”
When the Secret Sauce Falls Off
Dr Pepper has always been shrouded in mystery. The soda’s 23-flavor recipe, which has been around since 1885, is a trade secret, rumored to be locked up in a vault. (The internet theorizes that the flavors consist of amaretto, almond, blackberry, black licorice, carrot, clove, cherry, caramel, cola, ginger, juniper, lemon, molasses, nutmeg, orange, prune, plum, pepper, root beer, rum, raspberry, tomato, and vanilla.) Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist who worked for Bonne Bell in the early to mid-2000s, says that while they had some visibility to the composition in order to understand chemistry stability, the flavor was supplied to them under secrecy agreements. “I don’t think it’s a secret that benzaldehyde is the primary cherry note in the flavoring, but I can’t and won’t give any more details than that,” she says.
In 2015, Aspire Brands sold Bonne Bell and Lip Smacker to Markwins, the parent company of cosmetic brands like Wet n Wild and Physicians Formula. (The Bell family is still involved in beauty — Hadley and Peyton Bell, the great-granddaughters of Bonne Bell’s founder, run a skin-care brand called Formula 10.0.6., which is a reference to Ten-O-Six, the family’s original skin-care brand from 1933). It’s unclear whether the actual formula for the original Dr Pepper Lip Smacker was part of the 2015 sale, but a 2017 Bustle story by Kara McGrath, now Allure’s deputy digital director, might shed some light. A Markwins employee told McGrath at that time that its product development team utilized “equipment such as gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers to isolate some of the ingredients” found in Dr Pepper to formulate the balm.