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It's the end of an era for the Dr Pepper that so many of us love the soft drink that's sweetened with real cane sugar and manufactured in a small-town Texas bottling plant.

Soft drinks are a cutthroat business. Coke and Pepsi have been fighting for years. Now comes Dr Pepper.

The story line: If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. And one-third of the workers in a small business will lose their jobs as a result.

Dublin's Dr Pepper was made with pure cane sugar (instead of beet sugar or corn syrup) in the world's oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant located 75 miles southwest of Fort Worth. It has a devoted following.

Fans have been ordering cane sugar Dr Pepper over the Internet from a family-owned Dr Pepper bottler in Dublin.

But Plano-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS), which owns the brand for most of the country, took legal action because the plant was only authorized to distribute its product in a six-county territory.

Dublin switched to taking orders exclusively over the phone; it was enough to provide jobs for 40 people.

But that did not satisfy DPS.

So on Wednesday, Dr Pepper Snapple Group bought out the Dublin bottler, which is owned by the Kloster family.

DPS says it will continue to make the high-octane version of the drink itself at other plants across the country; it will no longer be bottled in Dublin.

That's fine for soda fans, but what about the bottling plant, which is Dublin's major employer?

The newly-dubbed Dublin Bottling Works will still make cane sugar soft drinks just not Dr Pepper. The plant laid off 14 workers on Wednesday.

We want to thank our many customers for their support of our family-owned business during the past 120 years, and we want them to know that Dr Pepper is still a big part of Dublin, said Jeff Kloster, vice president of Dublin Bottling Works, in a statement released by DPS late Wednesday afternoon. We hope customers will continue to visit our town, the W.P. Kloster Museum and Old Doc s Soda Shop, where they can still enjoy Dr Pepper sweetened with cane sugar.

A spokesman for Dr Pepper Snapple Group emphasized that the cane sugar version of Dr Pepper will continue to be available in distinct, nostalgic packaging with no reference to the Dublin plant.

But already, there is recognition of the unique place that Dublin Dr Pepper has for its legions of consumers. On Wednesday evening, an eBay seller offered a 24-bottle case of the product for $9,999 (plus $22.58 shipping).

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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