Food and the World: “National Brand?” – RC Cola in Tajikistan – by by Marin Ekstrom, with contributions from Manucher Narzulloev. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
When it comes to soda selections, RC Cola probably isn’t the first beverage that comes to mind. In my own experience (in particular, while I was growing up in the U.S.A), RC Cola was usually at the bottom of beverage coolers or tucked away on store shelves. It seemed that while RC Cola wasn’t completely unknown, it was overshadowed by brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
However, the status of RC Cola is much different in Tajikistan. If you travel to that country, you’ll quickly notice that RC Cola is much more popular over there. Shops stack their shelves with neatly-lined rows of RC Colas, commercials for the beverage blare on TV screens, and its image graces everything from billboards to bus stop signs. So why is RC Cola so visible in Ta-jikistan— even to the degree where it is practically considered a “national brand” (“7 невероятных фактов,” 2018)? The answer to that question is more fascinating than one might expect, as it is closely intertwined with Tajikistan’s journey towards establishing a post-Soviet identity.
At the start of the 1990s, Tajikistan was reeling from the aftershocks of the Soviet Union’s col-lapse. One of the foremost challenges that it faced was to develop a market economy after years of having a centrally planned system. A group of international entrepreneurs came to Tajikistan to scout out potential markets and industries. They decided to utilize Tajikistan’s numerous mountain springs in order to sell bottled water and other beverages.
[Haji Yaqub Mosque. Palace of Nations (the residence of the president of Tajikistan). Rudaki Park.]
In 1993, several of these international companies worked alongside burgeoning Tajik organiza-tions to drill a well near the city of Istaravshan. They noticed that the water from this mountain spring had an especially distinct and appealing taste, and thus decided that it would be a great item to market. A few other companies became drawn to the project— including RC Cola— and decided to build a beverage manufacturing plant near the Istaravshan spring. However, civil war broke out in Tajikistan around that time, as varying factions vied for control of the country. Due to this conflict, the companies delayed their beverage production plans for several years.
By the year 2000, a new government took power in Tajikistan, and the civil war came to an end. Millions of Tajiks suffered during the war, and thus people wanted to feel happy and hopeful again. They believed that one way to bring peace and optimism to their country was to rebuild its economy— and the beverages industry seemed like a strong contender for fulfilling this task. In 2000, the mountain springs processing plant at Istaravshan was finally completed, and the spring water was used to manufacture RC Cola, bottled water, and other beverages.
The drinks, especially RC Cola, proved to be an immediate success in Tajikistan. Tajiks loved the unique taste of RC Cola; due to the concentration of Tajikistan’s naturally sweet spring wa-ter, pure sugar is the only ingredient added in the production of RC Cola (whereas in other countries, producers use corn syrup and other additives). Today, everyone from young children to government officials love the sweet, fresh taste of RC Cola and other drinks made from Ta-jikstan’s spring water, and beverage production has become a key industry both home and abroad.
[The Dushanbe Flagpole (the 2nd largest flagpole in the world). A sign with figures in traditional Tajik dress.]
At first glance, the popularity of RC Cola in Tajikistan seems like a random, if ultimate-ly mundane, phenomenon. But as one digs into the story of how RC Cola achieved such success and popularity in this nation, it reveals a story that goes beyond mere commercialization. RC Cola is connected to the history, culture, and economy of post-Soviet Tajikistan, and has served as a symbol of hope and stability during Tajikistan’s bumpy transition to independent nation-hood. So let’s all raise a glass and give a toast to the importance of RC Cola in Tajikistan!
Marin Ekstrom serves as the assistant managing editor for NSR. Manucher Narzulloev is a Business Valuation Project Manager at the Gazprombank JSC (Joint Stock Company) which is in Moscow, Russia. Manucher is a holder of the bachelor’s and master’s degree in Financial Markets. He graduated Eurasian National University (Kazakhstan) and National Research University Higher School of Economics (Russia). Manucher is directly connected with the story because he was born in Tajikistan and grew up in Dushanbe.
“7 невероятных фактов о таджикской компании «Оби Зулол», о которых вы незнали” (2018, July 14). Retrieved July 27, 2019, from: https://news.tj/news/tajikistan/society/20180614/7-neveroyatnih-faktov-o-tadzhikskoi-kompanii-obi-zulol-o-kotorih-vi-ne-znali
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Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
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