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

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


[The rugged mountain landscape of Tajikistan. An RC Cola advertisement in Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan). Ismoili Somoni Monument.]

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.

Works Cited

“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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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

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.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

19 Comments

Filed under Marin Ekstrom, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

19 responses to “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

  1. Pingback: 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/NorthStarRe

  2. Lilianne Tapper

    Even though this article is very specific to Tajikistan, I think it exemplifies an international phenomenon. Certain brands that are American being commercialized in other countries. Luckily, it seems RC Cola had a positive impact compared to other American brands that are produced in foreign countries. Certainly is better than American clothing companies manipulating labor laws in other countries, and essentially creating sweatshops. This article exemplifies an aspect of globalization that thought provoking in the debate about globalization. It ads to the debate by suggesting that globalization has mutualistic, economic qualities.

  3. Itzayan Rocha

    Marin,

    Growing up in the U.S, I think it is sometimes difficult to picture other ways of life, and to understand other realities. Like you mentioned, we are constantly faced with either Coke or Pepsi products here, and we take this idea to be a reality for the whole world too. I am Mexican-american, and am constantly going to Mexico to visit family. Although they have coke and Pepsi products one of their very popular brands of sodas is called Jarritos which are sodas that come in many different fruity flavors. Not only that, but it is interesting that something as simple as soda can be attached to a nation’s history, and economic progress.

    Thank you!
    Itzy

  4. Itzayan Rocha

    Testing…I left a reply and am not sure if it went through (Sorry)

  5. Jake Foster

    I had no idea about this! It’s interesting how such a fringe product from the US has such cultural significance there. I’m curious whether something similar to this has happened in another post-soviet economy. I wonder if smaller companies will see the potential in countries like Tajikistan in the future. Perhaps it has happened/ happening in other developing countries in Asia or maybe in Africa.

  6. Lydia Liubakka

    Marin,

    You are completely right to say that RC Cola is not an influential brand here in the United States. I am very much a consumer of sugary beverages, and I have never had one. It would be interesting to taste the difference that Tajikistan’s sweet water and pure sugar make versus corn syrup in the soda. This difference reminds me of the hype around Mountain Dew Throwback. By simply switching out the main sweetener Mountain Dew was able to create a whole new line. Some might even believe that the cane sugar soda is healthy due to the way the product is marketed.

    – Lydia

  7. hannah Desmond

    Marin,
    I really enjoyed reading your article! I don’t think many people look into the back story of everyday products and how inspirational they are. As simple as a soft drink, seeing this company outlast a drastic national governmental change. I can see why this brand may not be so popular in other nations, the people in Ta-jikistan saw hope in the rebuilding of their economy through this company. I think your statement on how RC cola has become a “national brand” is agreeable.

  8. Rylee Whitney

    A part of this report strikes me the most because when I think of beverages with the name “cola” tied to them, I think of unhealthy additives like corn syrup and artificial flavoring. RC Cola is different though because it is made with the fresh spring water of Tajikistan and pure sugar. The notion that, “there must be something in the water” is definitely true in this instance, but in a positive manner.
    It surprised me that this beverage could bring so much hope to a nation. But once it is put into view of the hardship Tajikistan has overcome, it does not surprise me that something so natural and pure would give this feeling of hope. The author was correct when she said that RC Cola in Tajikistan is a fascinating phenomenon. The next time I am craving a soda, I think I’m going to reach for an RC Cola rather than Pepsi or Coca Cola.

  9. Anna Becker

    I find this article strangely interesting and compelling. Upon first glance I judged it to be one I was unsure of reading, however I quickly learned that I should not judge this article by its cover. A unique topic- one that hasn’t been touched on very often, was brought to light to show that something as simple as a can of soda can mean so much more. I feel it is important that we as humans begin to search for what really matters rather than relying on things that are comfortable for us; much like we would grab that can of Coca-Cola as it is something we know. I believe that we are so often distracted and caught up in our own lives that we avoid this unknown, we avoid the sense of discomfort. So when we step into said gas station, we choose not to purchase the RC Cola because it is something foreign (literally and figuratively) to us. Once we step outside of these boundaries we have placed ourselves within, we can quickly realize that things like RC Cola taste amazing and have an incredible story to share. As we grow, it is key to relearn how to avoid judging a ‘book by its cover’ or in this case a soda by its can. This will allow us to live and learn to the best of our abilities.

  10. Elijah Ortega

    Hello Marin,
    That is extremely interesting how a brand that appears almost never within mainstream media here in the United States can be such a hot commodity in other parts of the world. Growing up Coca Cola was always my favorite soda choice and I swore the Coca Cola in Mexico was far better than the one sold in the States. To hear this could be that there is a similar case with RC cola in tajikistan interests me and I cant help but want to seek out a bottle of this refreshing beverage.
    Thanks for sharing this information.

  11. Shelby Olson

    Marin,
    What an interesting article! I was unfamiliar with RC Cola and the history of Tajikistan before reading this, but it’s amazing to see the mutual benefits both the country and drink gained through globalization. It is especially compelling to see how the drink RC Cola was changed to use the natural spring water from Tajikistan and that the drink can serve as a positive symbol to the people there. Do you know RC Cola uses Tajikistan’s spring water in other parts of the world as a possible marketing tool? Thanks for sharing!

  12. Benjamin Burner

    Marin,

    This was a very interesting article. I would have never guessed that RC Cola would be so popular in Tajikistan. My whole life with all the options of beverages I think I can say that I have only had one or two RC Cola’s. It is just not a popular brand here and when I think of Cola, I think of Coca-Cola. In the article you say that Tajikistan’s spring water is naturally sweet, I would like to try that water just to find out what the sweet flavor is like. Thank you for this article it was very interesting. I can tell my friends that I learned something today and they would never guess that it is about RC Cola.

  13. jane kariuki

    Hello Marin,
    Very interesting article, I like how your ideas expose us to a different region than what we are used to. I also admire how you give a bit of history to the article an essence that clarifies things and brings things together. A few of the things we have covered in class is how globalization has increased the idea of commodification and distinctiveness. Your article gives examples of such idea, how RC Cola is used in Tajikistan and how it is different from the rest of the world. For instance, you explore how an international company alternate rhetoric, using resources from the country in order to make the product more local. The usage of “Tajikistan’s naturally sweet spring wa-ter”, makes is distinct Tajik, giving ownership and a sense of proudness to the people. It is also interesting to see how globalization has promoted the notion of using a national resource as a form of commodity. But then in the case, this might be what makes the drink unique and personal to the people. Thank you for sharing Marin.

  14. Elizabeth Mirkin

    Marin,
    Thank you for your writing! I Although I know very little about Tajikistan, I was able to get a small feel for the culture through this article. RC Cola represents something much more for Tajikistan than just a popular drink. It resembles the hope and optimism the country needed while rebuilding their economy after the war. I love how the drink is made with natural products rather than unhealthy additives. Something we don’t see here a lot in the United States. I would love to try some RC Cola!

  15. Angela Pecarina

    Marin,
    Thank you for your article. I was not sure what this would be about when I glanced it over while looking at what article to read. I had no idea about RC Cola. Let alone RC Cola in Tajikistan since I am not much of a pop drinker. Your article shared a great insight on the brief history of this country and the Cola. Something new I learned today as well!

  16. Toni Bishop

    Marin,
    Thank you for presenting me with this interesting article. I thought it was interesting number one because I never knew that RC Cola was that big in other countries. I grew up drinking it but haven’t thought much about it sense. It was interesting for me to see into the story of RC cola in other countries. It’s pretty cool to see how the production of these drinks could bring a community back together and bring its economic status back a little bit. Another fact about this article that I found was interesting was that RC Cola only has sugar added to it and not corn surp. I think this would make the drink taste better and healthier. I liked this article because it made me think about the history of other companies of products that I use everyday.
    Thanks,
    Toni

  17. Tamer Mische-Richter

    Marin,
    The history of RC Cola would never come up in day to day conversation. I had no idea that the brand had roots in Tajikistan. This is what amazes me about the idea of globalization in today’s world. Large brands, in this case Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have their brands spread throughout the world riding on exorbitant ad campaigns. RC Cola rides the bottom shelves of US supermarkets, but has a much larger following in an area of the world most people can not pronounce the name of. Comparing the large brands from the US to a brand with roots from the Soviet Union can be seen through where we value the product in our lives.

    RC cola is personally on the same level as Coke.

  18. Madina Tall

    Hello Marin,
    Thank you for such an interesting article! RC cola is something I never put a deep thought into but reading this article reminded me that in Ethiopia where I grew up as well, RC is a big thing! Not overshadowed by the other brands but rather more expensive at times. The RC lemonade is one of the country’s favorite. Globalization is always showing us what we all have in common.

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