S. Shalini Muthukumar’s ‘Rocket Soda’ brings back the fizz to goli soda

The goli soda is much like a rocket. The bottle resembles one — pop it opens and hisses to life; the fizz rushes forth to greet you. And that’s why S. Shalini Muthukumar, who runs Trumba Beverages, has named her brand of goli soda ‘Rocket Soda’. She hopes to give the fast-disappearing drink a new lease of life.

When Shalini decided to explore a new business venture, it was goli soda that “pulled” her in. A lover of antiques, she has always been fascinated by the panner-flavoured drink that she tasted during her trips in the city’s outskirts. But sometimes, “the hygiene factor kept me away,” she says. “Why not make her own brand of soda,” she thought.

Shalini started out by visiting the goli soda bottling units in the city and saw firsthand the creation of the soda. The owners of these units, she says, were open to letting her into their manufacturing process. “For them, goli soda is not just a means of making a living. It’s much more.” With a background in the hotel industry, she used her in-house team to come up with a similar taste after trial and error.

Her first goli soda experiment was a huge hit — it was at the Madras Market in March 2013. She sold 800 bottles in two days, despite pricing them at Rs.40 each. “I realised that people loved goli soda for the experience of it,” she says. “The ‘pop’ sound when the bottle is opened, the fact that it’s a local product…they loved it. For the youngsters, it was something new. For the older people, it was a trip down memory lane,” she smiles. At every event she has participated in, her stall of sodas would be the most crowded. Shalini realised that Chennai had a market for goli soda and decided to make the most of it. Today, her brand of soda is sold in places such as Crimson Chakra in Adyar, Café Adonia on Harrington Road and Besant Nagar, Shaack at Anna Nagar, and Amma Restaurant in T. Nagar at prices ranging from Rs.30 to Rs.100 a bottle. How does she justify the high price? “Quality,” she answers. “Our bottles are washed manually up to eight times. We use RO-treated water and no artificial flavouring is added. The soda consists of only water, panner essence, and sugar.”

The 32-year-old is confident that goli soda will get back to the pedestal it was once on. “I’m sure it will rock the market,” she says. “There is a lot of demand now. We are not able to meet it.” With the only factory that manufactures the Codd-neck bottles in the country ceasing production, Shalini says that the shortage of bottles is affecting her business. “I hope to manufacture the bottles myself in the future,” she says. “The beauty of goli soda lies in the bottle.”

Shalini is experimenting on new flavours; Rocket Soda will soon be launched in blueberry and strawberry variants. With hygiene as her priority, she says she is also toying with the idea of introducing caps made of aluminum foil for the bottles. She has a lot of plans in the pipe-line for goli soda — such as introducing it in pubs. Shalini is expecting a consignment of 1,000 bottles from Sasni in Uttar Pradesh. Once they arrive, Rocket Soda will take off in full gear in the city. “There is no RIP for goli soda,” she adds. Shalini has found ways to sell the goli soda at a much higher rate than the very soft-drink brands that stole its market in the 1990s. This is perhaps Rocket Soda’s biggest success.