CHENNAI: From Wednesday, the top multinational cola brands would become as scarce as the drinking water in Tamil Nadu that they are accused of exploiting, following the decision taken by the major traders associations in the State to boycott the products from March 1.
What began as one of the several issues raised during the confluence of agitations that was called the jallikattu protests grew in scope after many among the public began boycotting the cola products marketed by MNC giants Pepsi and Coca Cola. Soon, traders followed suit; some out of activism, many due to pragmatism.
The owner of Super stores in Koyambedu said though he was not a part of the trade association, he has decided against placing fresh orders because of the steady decline in demand. Shop keepers who used to sell 50-60 pet bottles began seeing the sales crash to single figures.
After the two major traders associations announced the boycott from March 1, shopkeepers stopped taking fresh stocks. While the shopkeepers are divided on completely refraining from selling the coke drinks in the approaching summer, the steep fall in sales forced some to sell off their stock at throw-away price before the deadline. In fact, as the day grew closer, some even sold the softdrinks, priced at Rs 30 for a 600 ml bottle, at just Rs 10 on the roadsides of Kotturpuram in Chennai.
Speaking to Express, Vanigar Sangangalin Kootamaipu president AM Vikramaraja said all small traders would close their doors to the two soft drink giants as planned, from Wednesday. As for retail and food chains, some of whom had paid in advance for the year's supply, a decision would be taken by Thursday, he added.
Other than the profits, an important factor for the shopkeeper to consider is the cooler that comes as part of the deal with the MNCs. If bought separately, some coolers cost up to Rs 1 lakh depending on the storage capacity.
Some like Lakshmanan S who runs a soft drink store at a commercial store in Thanjavur are hoping that the local brands like Bovonto, which are expected to gain due to the boycott, would also supply a refrigerator.
The associations had taken up the matter with local players like Kalimark to distribute beverage chillers, too. “Almost every local player has agreed to provide chillers that are in fact less power consuming than the ones that the MNCs supply,” said Vikramaraja.
Some traders, however, like a popular retailer in Vellore, said many shopkeepers would go ahead with the sale of these beverages even after March 1. “Most petty shops are against the ban and are not attached to the merchants associations. The ban by the association has no control over them. When people are opting for these drinks, no ban can stop it,” he said.
“Immediately after the protests, we did not sell even one bottle a day. Now people were gradually beginning to forgive and forget," said a trader from Egmore. Another at Koyambedu said they would wait and see if the demand picks up. “If it does, we have to decide what we would do next,” he added.
With the two key players in the market out of the way, local brands like Kalimark's Bovonto lead the way along with Amrutanjan's Frutnik and Parle's Frooti. The desi panneer soda has replaced Coke and Pepsi as the mix for alcoholic drinks, traders said.
But the space occupied by these MNC products are so big that local brands may not be able to fill the gap, pointed out Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce and Industry president N Jegatheesan. “The MNC soft drink brands account for 90 per cent of the market, while there are only three local brands in Tamil Nadu that sells the remaining 10 per cent. It is possible that people would boycott these brands, but it will be difficult for the ones here to step up manufacturing at such short notice,” he said.
“Though an overnight boycott of multinational soft drinks is not possible, with the support of public especially the youth, we can bring down the sales and consumption further," said V Govindarajalu, treasurer of TamilNadu Vanigar Sangankalin Peramaippu.
Both Pepsi and Coca Cola refused to comment on the matter.