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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quenching the thirst – the story of a Goli soda Manufacturer…

The atmosphere is still hot – in August it still sweltering heat – a few minutes outsides leaves you parched.  You would think that an icy-cold soft drink is the necessity ! – you go to any mall or any shop even it be a roadside one – you get the multinational branded Coke or Pepsi and can enjoy the chill bottled drink.  It might appear to be refreshing but actually it is not – it would neither reduce your thirst nor supplement you in any manner.  Loaded with sugar and devoid of any nutritional value, carbonated soft drinks can only do harm.  You can read that it contains – carbonated water, sugar, caffeine, phosphoric acid, caramel colour and natural flavouring but does not contain any fruit juice or fruit pulp, yes a fruit drink where fruit is not a component in any manner.   An occasional soft drink would be relatively harmless but not when it is consumed displacing nutritional food and beverage.  The soft drink corporations are aggressively marketing their products targetting children mostly through grand advertisements, movies and promos.

Perhaps this industry sells more than any other industry does ! Inside Shopping malls, departmental stores and even your neighbourhood friendly shops – you find breathtaking array of soft drinks.  From the days when you had Fanta, Campacola and Goldspot backed up by Kali Mark,  Bovonto and Mapillai Vinayakar in interior places, the industry has come a long way.   Now you have too many brands of Cocoa Cola, Limca, 7 Up, LMN, Slice, Maaza, Mountain dew, Slice, Sprite, Mirinda, Thumsup, Pepsi – to name a few.   The soft drink industry is growing at a hectic pace and Coke & Pepsi have a lion’s share of the market. 
Some of the prime reasons for their success would include – their advertisement, marketing technique, supply chain, transportation, shift from returnable glass bottles to pet bottles.  This story is not about the multinational giants but their subjugation of desi bottled drinks industry !

Once upon a time, in the Indian Nation, there used to be a drink called soda partnered by another variant ‘paneer’ soda (flavoured version).  One could see handcart containing loads of these bottles being delivered to road corner shops and they would sell in large numbers.  Tamilnadu was a place known for political meetings and speakers.  There would be roadside public meetings attended by large number of masses.  As the speaker would make an enthralling speech, a supporter would come to the make shift dias, open a soda bottle with his hands and provide it to the speaker lauding his speech.  It was a thirst quencher and had a pride of place in state politics – it is another matter that the same soda bottle was effectively used as a weapon to disperse crowds and make them run. 


That is the story of ‘Goli Soda’  - the bottled soda drink which had a marble in its neck.  It was pure carbonated water commonly called soda (not the club soda of these days) – it had a simple process of putting carbon dioxide gas under pressure dissolved into water, making the drink fizzy and effervescent.  A great drink which sold in great numbers -  can you spot them or would you be ok in your child drinking it now ?  Did you ever care to think how this transformation took place in a few decades. 

By some token, soda though local was not indigenous.  Its origin is traced to 1872 when  British soft drink maker Hiram Codd of Camberwell, London, designed and patented a bottle designed specifically for carbonated drinks. The Codd-neck bottle was designed and manufactured to enclose a marble and a rubber washer/gasket in the neck. The bottles were filled upside down, and pressure of the gas in the bottle forced the marble against the washer, sealing in the carbonation. The bottle was pinched into a special shape  to provide a chamber into which the marble was pushed to open the bottle. This prevented the marble from blocking the neck as the drink was poured.  This  became extremely popular with the soft drink and brewing industries.

The industry thrived and flourished even in cities and they were sold near schools also.  I have seen some goli soda factories in the vicinity of Triplicane though almost none exist today – all eaten by the big fishes.  The giant competitors crushed these small units not only by competitive edge but also by destroying the very fabric.  For the small time soda makers, the cost of soda and cost of retrieval was huge.  A broken bottle would harm not only the man but also the manufacturer.  It is widely believed that the Multinational giants resorted to buying the old bottles in bulk and destroyed them ensuring that the supply chain for the soda industry is broken.  By breaking the very backbone they ruthlessly restrained their competitors. 

Anna Salai (Mount Road) is the arterial road lying in the heart of Chennai and closer to the road (near LIC) in one of the narrow by-lanes, there exists still a factory manufacturing goli soda. Vela & Co is run by an young entrepreneur continuing the family traditions, run jointly with the brother of his father.  Decades ago, it was roaring business and around 10000 bottles were made and distributed to city shops when there was tough competition from similar soda manufacturing units.  Now virtually there is no competition – but the production has trickled down to few hundreds.  Not able to rely upon this product alone, they have diversified into making flavoured juices, milk, buttermilk and the like.  A bottled soda perhaps returns them 20% of the sale price of Rs.5/- which in these days is just not enough, as the turnover is modest to say it modestly.

The owner is Vadivel Koteeswaran, who worked with us for some time.

With regards
S. Sampathkumar.

PS :    The New Indian Express (City Express – Chennai supplement) featured an article on this factory on 2nd Aug 2011


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