Two of the biggest trade associations in Tamil Nadu have called for a boycott of Pepsi and Coca-Cola products from Wednesday onward.
The traders' bodies- Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangam and Tamil Nadu Traders Federation- had taken the decision to not sell the MNC giants' products from March 1 soon after the Jallikattu protests in the state.
"Most traders stopped selling Pepsi and Coca Cola products soon after the jallikattu protests. Now, more will join in," said Vellaiyan, head of the Tamil Nadu Traders Federation.
The demands for a ban on Pepsi and Coca-Cola had intensified during the Marina protests in January with agitators alleging that these companies were exploiting the state's water bodies to manufacture aerated drinks while farmers were facing severe drought.
The directive of the traders' bodies however does not mean an official ban.
After making the announcement to boycott the companies last month, the organisations had clarified that it is not a ban, but that they have just asked their members to not sell the products.
Speaking to The News Minute, Vellaiyan had earlier said, "We have told members not to sell these products at all. This includes every single product manufactured by these companies. There are 6000 smaller associations which come under our Federation. We do not have the authority to ban it, so we are asking members not to sell it. Many reports have found that such products contain pesticides and are poisonous to oneâ€™s health. It is a duty of a government to ban these products, but since the government is unwilling to do so, we decided to do it."
For now, the situation on the ground seems to be one of uncertainty.
While many shopkeepers have extended their support to the ban, some say they do not have much of a say in the matter when two big trade bodies have already made the decision.
"I will only comply with the ban if the other traders in my area follow it. If there is a demand, I will continue to sell the products. For now, I have reduced the stock and have very few bottles left with me. Only two traders' union are banning it, how can all small traders follow it?," a retail shop owner in Thiruvanmiyur said.
"Also if there is a demand for Pepsi and Coca-Cola over local drinks, how can I remove it?," he asked.
Pepsi and Coca-Cola manufacture a variety of products including juices, bottled water, chips and oats. But their soft-drinks are the most popular amongst their products.
And with summer approaching, some shopkeepers wonder if locally manufactured products will be able to keep up with the overall demand for aerated drinks.
Forty-year-old Vasu, who owns the AVN Medical shop on Gandhi Street, had bought the last stock of Pepsi and Coca-Cola products before the Jallikattu protests.
"Whatever is left in my shop is from that stock. I have no plans to order it again. There is demand from customers but I am scared to buy. I am not part of the two trade unions that have issued the diktat but we have to follow it. I don't have a choice," he stated.
He added that there continues to be a huge demand for Pepsi and Coco-Cola drinks and it will only increase in the summer. "I could lose up to Rs 12,000 a month. Bovonto and other Indian products are selling decently since the protests but I don't know if it will match up to Pepsi and Coca-Cola."
Since there has been no official notice on such a ban, Suresh TS, manager of the Nilgiris store in GN Chetty Road said that they have no plans to stop selling the products.
"The customer is king as far as we are concerned. We have no plans to stop stocking Pepsi and Coke. There has been no circular issued to us and we haven't faced any problems yet. As long as there is demand we will continue stocking the products," he said.
There are also those feel strongly about the cause and say will support the ban, even if it means incurring losses.
Bhaskar, another retailer in the city, said, "I have planned to clear Pepsi and Coca-Cola stock by March 15. Whatever I have now, I will sell it and will throw the rest away. I have to face losses as summers are coming and everyone opts for these brands. But I believe that many people will shift to local drinks. I feel it is a good initiative."
"We support this ban and Bovonto is part of our culture for years," said Govindan, a customer. "We have many other options also in local drinks and we would prefer those over Pepsi and Coke".
Some retailers also said that ever since the Jallikattu protests, sale of local drinks have gone up.
Shankar, who works as the manager of Waitrose supermarket in TNagar, said while they have no immediate plans to stop supplies, they haven't ordered the next batch yet.
"We haven't received a circular from the head office and we are waiting for the same. But the sale of Coke and Pepsi products has already gone down by 40% and 50% respectively. In contrast, Indian products are selling better since the Jallikattu protests. We will wait for a week before deciding what course of action to take."
The owner of Sai Supermarkets on TP Road is confident that the sale of local products will fill the gap left by Pepsi and Coca-Cola and that they won't face any losses. "Only the companies producing the products will suffer. Trade unions are saying that these products contain harmful chemicals. They are asking us to do this for our own good. I have informed the sales representatives to not bring more stock and to take away whatever is left. They should be here in the next two days. There is no question of agreeing or disagreeing to the ban. We are poor people and we do what we are ordered to."
Some though are concerned of the potential impact of such a ban on employment in the state.
"I am personally unsure of this whole exercise. It may cause a temporary set back to the companies but won't leave a permanent scar. What I am worried about is the lakhs of people who will lose jobs now in Tamil Nadu," said Kavya Sriram, a student in Chennai.
Speaking to TNM earlier this week, a source at Pepsi called the trade bodies' decision "random bullying in some ways".
"Legally, the association has no jurisdiction to implement a ban on anything and distributors (massively) and retailers (to an extent) will be severely hit. It is still under negotiation," the source said.
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