Pepsi and Coke ready for storm as Tamil Nadu’s boycott begins

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Many grocery store owners, restaurant proprietors and refreshment vendors will stop selling drinks made by multinational brands in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu from March 1—though shopkeepers have reported a sharp drop in sales ahead of the protest.

Customers have even asked storeholders not to stock brands made by the likes of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola as anti-multinational sentiment has grown in the state.

Industry groups and unions have backed the move. One giant union said it will prohibit the sale of Pepsi and Coca-Cola products by its 6,000 affiliated member associations and a claimed 2.1m members. 

The state’s traders' federation, meanwhile, already stopped sales on January 26. Together they control retail business in a state of 78m, and their stance on the ban is reportedly backed by the majority of traders.

Demand has dropped. Perhaps one in a hundred customers ask for [the banned brands]. We are hardly selling two or three bottles a week [ahead of the protest],” R Rajan, of the Sundaram Juice Stall in Chennai, told The Hindu. 

There seems to a be a very strong change in the behaviour of consumers. Infact, we do not display the bottles any more since a few irked customers asked us to not stock them. More customers are taking to paneer soda and other local brands,” he said. 

The protest traces its roots back to calls by American animal rights group Peta to ban Jallikattu, a traditional local sport similar to bullfighting, swelling widespread rage in the state.

The local associations and unions—having raged at multination for decades, and spurred on last year by a ruling by Madras High Court to ban PepsiCo and Coca-Cola drawing water from the Thamirabarani River, which is now back before the courts—jumped on public anger towards what they viewed as globalisation trampling on their traditions.

Until now, the anti-globalisation lobby has never been able to feasibly boycott multinational drink brands because there has always been too much demand for them.

There is evident support now for their wishes, displayed under the guise of concern for public health in the face of sugar-laden products. The ban does not, however, apply to locally manufactured sweetened beverages.

They cause more harm than good to the body. Only recently, one of the brands admitted to the fact that it was not suitable for children and that it contained certain harmful chemicals,” said AM Vikramaraja, president of the TNVSP union ahead of the protest. 

"Protesters have said that they will not consume any soft drinks manufactured in the US. Therefore, as a sign of respect to Jallikattu protesters, we have decided to ban the sale of Pepsi and Coca-Cola in Tamil Nadu,” Vikramaraja added.

The multinational brands have been largely tight-lipped over the issue, though the protest should hit PepsiCo and Coca-Cola’s sales dramatically. Locally, multinationals account for all but US$89m of the US$300m Tamil Nadu soft drinks market.

It is expected that local brands, including Bovonto, Sri Mappillai Vinayagar and Triple Seven Cola, will be among the beneficiaries of the boycott.

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