A small brand from an obscure town is competing with cola giants for shelf space

In the non-descript town of Narimogeru in Puttur taluk may lie some competition in the country to worldwide recognised brands of Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

In hardly 10 years, Bindu, the beverages arm of Shankar Group, has expanded from manufacturing bottled water to soda products. Its proprietors claim the brand to be the third biggest in South India after the cola giants.

The company manufactures myriad varieties of Indianised cola products such as Jeera and Ginger cola.

Satish Shankar, Managing Director of the group, said the rural and semi-urban markets had responded well and sales in urban markets were picking up.

The origins of the cola brand surprisingly comes from a single autorickshaw that Mr. Shankar bought through a bank loan immediately after his pre-university education.

A year later, he sold the autorickshaw to buy a car. In 1987, the sturdy Ambassador gave way to an automobile garage, then a tyre dealership, then in 1994 an automobile finance company.

With a little money in hand, he capitalised on a water source found in his father’s 50-acre farm land.

“The water from the stream was tested, and was found to be pure enough to bottle it,” he said.

And so, in 2000, manufacture and sales of Bindu started. The brand took strength after the production of Fizz Jeera Masala and Zing Ginger in 2002. Mr. Shankar said the idea of the unconventional drinks came after a trip to North India. “After tasting Jaljeera, I decided to experiment and carbonate it. I don’t think anyone had attempted this on a large-scale before,” he said.

Initially, the company found the going difficult. “A lot of cases were returned initially. Shopkeepers told us no one was interested in Jeera cola. We had no capital for advertising, had to rely on word-of-mouth publicity. We had to coerce shoppers to taste the cola for free,” he said.

The strategy clicked, and slowly the demand for the unconventional colas increased. Soon, these colas spurred imitators and competitors.

From a team of around eight people a decade ago, with an annual turnover of Rs. 35 lakh, Mr. Shankar and his wife Ranjitha Shankar saw their company grow to be worth around Rs. 150 crore, employing around 250 people.

The company aims at touching Rs. 1,000 crore in the next five years — including fruit juices, apple fizz, and snacks segments — making it a brand to reckon with.

Kokum

Punarpuli or Kokum remains at the heart of Dakshina Kannada’s culinary tradition, especially during hot, sweltering summers. However, surprisingly, the fruit, which is grown along the Konkan coast of the Western Ghats, has yet to find a brand to capitalise.

“Demand is high during summers, but the availability is relatively low. However, demand is seasonal, and since the cultivation is not strengthened, it has not been manufactured in a large-scale,” said David D’Souza, a vegetable merchant in the city and one of the speakers at the National Seminar on Kokum organised by Western Ghats Kokum Foundation last year.

Calling it “healthy, nutritious and with a unique, natural taste”, he said Kokum was primarily being used by cottage industries for its ease in making low shelf life juices.

Similarly, small brands such as Zaffa and Joy have found its niche in the small shops of the city and in the town across the district. Offering the usual set of products, which mimic the taste offered by the bigger brands, Mangalore-based Joy and Zaffa Soft Drinks have capitalised on places that have been hitherto untouched by the branding blitz of Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

Unlike Bindu, Zaffa is available in glass bottles, which have served to increase its popularity in bakeries and small stalls across Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts.

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