Tamil Nadu may soon see renewed vigour in boycotting Coca-Cola and Pepsi, two of the most popular carbonated beverages, in favour of more homegrown products. Tamil Nadu’s Trader Association- Vanigar Sangangalin Peravai-has called for a boycott of the beverages from August 15 onwards.
However, this isn’t the first time the boycott call is being made. After the jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu in 2017, trade associations had called for a boycott of Coke and Pepsi, but it lasted only for a few weeks.
Speaking to TNM, Vanigar Sangangalin Peravai president T Vellaiyan said, “Two years ago, we strongly opposed Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and we demanded that they be banned. We asked the government, but they didn't."
Vellaiyan says that though the association that has around 1.5 million members boycotted the two companies on the grounds that health of people was being affected, Coke and Pepsi recaptured the market.
“It' not just about the health of the people, but indigenous manufacturing is also being affected. The current central government's policies are favourable only to multinational companies,” he said.
Vellaiyan says that multinational corporations get cheap labour, free water, subsidised electricity and access to other resources.
“If I go to a politician and say that you must change your mind and homegrown products must be promoted, no politician will listen. So what do we do? We traders must only sell our country's products, and we must only buy our country's products -- that's what we are hoping,” he says.
The boycott is an idea that has been mooted previously but didn’t work out. This time, the association has decided to hold rallies across the state from August 1 to August 15 to inform people about ingenious products, and then congregate in Trichy. They aim to boycott the products from August 15 onwards.
“We aim to showcase smaller products to the people so that Coke and Pepsi can be avoided,” Vellaiyan said.
What happened last time?
44-year-old Radhakrishnan, the owner of Sri Nachiyar Communications, a roadside all-purpose store in the Venkatachalapuram neighbourhood in Madurai says, “The year that Jallikattu happened, there was awareness among people and especially youngsters, who wanted to boycott such drinks".
Radhakrishnan says 60% of his customers didn’t ask for it, and demand had dipped for a while.
“The demand for local brands like Kalimark has always stayed the same. They have a loyal customer base. The year after the Jallikattu protest there was a sudden spike in the market for it, but things got back to the usual the next year,” he says.
But such a boycott only puts shop owners in a fix.
“Even if shopkeepers boycott, if youngsters demand it then we won't have any other option but to stock it. I personally think international brands like Pepsi and Coke that dry up our rivers should go. But this is not a decision that I can make alone," he says.
S Muthukrishnan, who runs a snack and stationery shop on Jaihindpuram Main Road, supports the boycott but agrees with Radhakrishnan. “We went back to stocking it because there was a market for it. Even if shopkeepers ban the drinks, it is not like people can't buy it anywhere else. Restaurants also stock such drinks. People are used to consuming such drinks and they will continue to do so,” he says.
It remains to be seen if the boycott can be pulled off this time, as the two companies manufacture a wide range of products. As of 2017, Coca-Cola and Pepsi had a collective market share of at least 55%.
(With inputs from Anjana Shekar)