Mumbai is hot. Too hot for March. And too hot to be choosing your brand of soft drink in the middle of the day, under the unforgiving sun. You just drink what you get, first. In this mad rush between your dying throat and your out-reached hand, there is no time for thought. Not the least, for the story of how the bottle you are clutching, arrived into that refrigerator.
Get out of your house. Go to the nearest department store, put your head into their fridge, close your eyes, pick any bottle randomly and look at the label behind. If it does not read ‘product of Pepsico or The Coca Cola company’, you can take a flight to Delhi and cut my balls off.
It is not just your cola. It is your water, orange juice, mango, apple, lime, energy drink, your pack of chips and even your breakfast oats – most of these brands are all owned by one of these two cola companies. When I was growing up in the 80s, things were a bit different. There was this company in Vile Parle, making this absolutely stunning drink called Thums Up, with cool ads. This other company making ‘campy’ orange drinks and heck, I even had a local manufacturer making cola under the name of Kali. In other words, I had a fucking choice. And boy, I can still taste those solid burps after that first gulp of Thums Up in ‘Abilash Bakeries’ as a school kid.
Things changed after 1991. A man with a blue turban opened up the gates of the Indian market and 2 bulldozers came inside, muscling their way in with superior advertising budgets. The Indian companies obviously did not have deep enough purses and so they caved in. In what was one of the most baffling moves ever in Indian corporate history, Thums Up – the then market leader with an almost monopoly in the cola market, sold itself to Coke for a measly $60 Million. Far cry from today, where we are buying global steel and auto giants at roughly 75 times that price.
And what happened to my neighbourhood Kalimark? Those visionaries, who identified the power of rural India, decades before McKinsey did? It has been reduced to a company without a website.
I read this interesting piece the other day about how Pepsi and Coke are pulling out of schools. Now I have not done an extensive research to fully understand the quality practices of these two companies or judge them from an ethical or scientific perspective. But then I dont have to. If an organization like the Centre for Science and Environment, which has MS Swaminathan as its chair person tells me that there is more pesticide content in my bottle of Pepsi than in Obama’s, then I have a problem. And if you tell me they are using 7 lakh litres of water a day per plant, when some families in my town cant manage 1 litre of clean water in a week, then I have a Big Fucking Problem.
But what foxes me is that even today, with consumerism at its peak in India, we do not have a mainstream soft drink player. Yeah, the Daburs of the World (read ‘Real’) still try, but lets not kid ourselves. Your neighborhood tea stall is more likely to stock ‘limca’ or ‘nimbooz’, than ‘Real’. Why do we call it ‘fair trade’ when marketing muscle can beat innovation? Why do press releases by the CSE have a shorter life than a Ranbir Kapoor Pepsi ad? How come the press is more interested in Indira Nooyi’s power than her pesticides?
I dont drink Thums Up these days, as the burp brings many disturbing pictures to my mind. In the mean time, the only guy who seems to get this drift and even find humour in it is Simbuthevan 😉
PS: Remeber the famous Andy Warhol quote? “A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum in the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it and you know it”. Really? mmm…