Gulab Ladhani, 59, a dapper bottler in Agra, proudly shows a picture in his office with former Coca-Cola chairman Neville Isdell (at that time, he was senior vice-president) drinking from the first 300-ml cola bottle launched in India from his plant. He remembers how he had painted a large part of the city red (the brand colour of Coke) and ordered about 1,000 balloons with the Coke logo to be released close to the Taj Mahal on D-Day.
October 24, 1993, marked the second coming of Coke into India (after it was forced out by the government 16 years earlier). The world's largest beverage company chose the city of the Taj to announce its battle with global rival PepsiCo.
Ladhani worked overtime to get his Rs 8-crore plant on the outskirts of the city ready before the deadline. His India-made machines would churn out 400 bottles a minute, which he felt was enough to cater to about 1500 soft drink retailers in the city. Only 10 per cent of these retailers had coolers.
Twenty years later, Ladhani's youngest son, Ekansh, who was merely eight when Coke returned to India, is overseeing a new bottling plant near Agra.
The automated plant, which has machines imported from Italy, involves an investment of Rs 135 crore. It can churn out about 1000 bottles a minute, including PET bottles.
Ekansh feels this would meet the demand of 10,000-odd retailers in and around Agra (of whom 70 per cent have coolers). It would also meet his ambitious target of covering all the 30,000 retailers of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) in and around the city in a few years.
Agra is reflective of Coca-Cola's roller-coaster ride in the country in the past two decades, one that has mirrored the country's economic growth, rising consumption and vibrant middle class.
In the last two decades, the per capita consumption of soft drinks has grown sevenfold, even as the population of the country has increased 1.36 times.
Coke prices more-than-doubled during the period. About a quarter of the eight million FMCG retailers stack Coke; in 1993, only six per cent had soft drinks available.
Text: Surajeet Das Gupta, Business Standard
Image Courtesy: Coca Cola