Goli soda’s second wind: a nostalgic return for India’s iconic beverage

Did you know that there are now about 700 goli soda brands in India? The drink’s resurgence is fuelled by nostalgia and a growing consumer preference for unique flavours

Published - May 24, 2024 02:51 pm IST

Goli Soda is experiencing a comeback in India.

Goli Soda is experiencing a comeback in India. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The clink of glass marbles against bottles, a burst of citrusy fizz, and a childhood memory comes flooding back. Goli soda, the iconic Indian beverage, is returning across major cities. 

Also known as banta soda in North India, it is a drink made with carbonated water, flavoured syrup, and sometimes a hint of salt. The magic lies in its unique bottling method. Unlike regular soda bottles, goli soda comes in a Codd-neck bottle with a marble stopper. To access the drink, you press the marble into the neck, releasing the pressure to create a satisfying fizz. 

Since the mid-20th Century, goli soda has held a special place in Indian beverage culture for decades. However, the rise of mass-produced aerated drinks eventually led to goli soda’s decline. “Large companies came in with standardised designs and universal flavours,” says Abdul Khader, co-founder of Spark Goli Soda, a Hyderabad-based brand. “They offered a taste people were familiar with, and goli soda, with its regional variations, kind of faded away.”

Fast forward to the past five years, and Goli Soda is experiencing a delightful comeback. 

Spark Goli Soda ‘Remix’

Spark Goli Soda ‘Remix’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Reasons for resurgence

According to Abdul, there are now about 700 goli soda brands (including hyperlocal ones) in India. Social media has played a crucial role in the drink’s second wind, with eye-catching photos and videos sparking interest among younger generations, many unfamiliar with the drink. “There’s a definite nostalgia factor,” says Raghuraman Gobinathan, co-founder of Kaalaiyan Goli Soda in Coimbatore.

But he believes the resurgence goes beyond just fond memories. Cultural identity is a factor, too. “The Jallikattu protests in 2017 definitely played a role in the growth of our brand,” he says. “There was this anti-MNC sentiment in Tamil Nadu, and people were looking for alternatives to the colas of big brands. Goli soda, a traditional South Indian beverage, fit the bill perfectly.”

Goli Soda also offers a distinct taste profile, often featuring local ingredients. “We focus on ‘desi’ flavours like pudina (mint) and jeera (cumin),” says Abdul. “These resonate with people and perfectly complement Indian cuisine like biryani. It’s a return to familiar, authentic tastes.”

The emphasis on hygiene and safety standards also helps. “Unlike the old days, many brands now use semi-automatic machinery and prioritise proper certification for their ingredients,” says Dinesh Kumar Gopal, director, Phoenix Goli Soda in Chennai. “This focus on quality resonates with today’s health-conscious consumers.” It also ensures a shelf-life of six months.

Rahul Johar, founder and CEO of Oxbow Brands, which sells goli soda in Bengaluru, sheds light on the drink’s growing popularity. “Goli Soda has seen a notable uptick in Bangalore in recent years. Its nostalgic resonance coupled with diverse new brands and flavours has played a crucial role in its resurgence,” he explains. 

This nostalgic appeal is not limited to older generations; the younger demographic is also being introduced to this cultural icon through regional cinema and innovative marketing.

The scorching summer of 2024 has significantly boosted Goli Soda’s sales. “This fiscal year, we have witnessed a remarkable surge in sales, with our brand Dobra Pop Goli experiencing a three-fold increase over the last two months compared to the colder winter months,” says Rahul.

Fizz or fizzle? 

Despite its resurgence, the drink faces stiff competition from established beverage giants. Abdul points out the pricing challenges. “Glass bottles are expensive, and while we’ve automated parts of the process, the production costs remain high compared to PET plastic bottles [that contain colas],” he says. This cost factor makes it difficult for goli soda to compete with multi-national cola brands that offer similar volumes at lower prices.

Dinesh emphasises the cost and effort of maintaining high standards. “We don’t compromise on quality, but this means our goli soda is more expensive,” he explains. This price difference can be a barrier for some customers.

The lack of brand value is another hurdle. “Most goli soda companies are micro-brands with limited regional presence, which affects growth. Unlike big cola companies, we don’t have the same level of brand recognition,” Abdul adds. This has led to a slight dip in demand.

Reinventing the marble

Goli soda is not just riding on nostalgia; it is evolving with modern trends. Vendors are experimenting to keep the beverage relevant, from innovative flavours to new packaging. 

For instance, Spark Goli Soda has introduced a Remix line, combining multiple flavours such as Green Twister (lime and green apple) and Peach Punch (peach and lime), catering to younger and international markets. 

The secret to success, according to Dinesh, is a mix of traditional and modern flavours. “When it comes to Chennai or even the whole of Tamil Nadu, nothing beats paneer (rose water) flavour,” he says, “But the name causes a bit of mix-up outside Tamil Nadu as people confuse it for the dairy paneer.” 

Packaging plays a crucial role, too. Traditionally sold in robust glass bottles with a marble stopper, the packaging is a nostalgic experience. However, vendors are modernising the packaging to cater to contemporary consumer preferences and regulatory requirements.

“We developed a new, lightweight bottle that meets international quality standards,” says Abdul, “It’s similar to the bottle used for the popular Japanese drink Ramune. We have launched a discount programme for our single-use glass bottles. You’ll earn points towards your next purchase when you buy a case of 24 bottles and return the empties.”

Meanwhile, Dinesh emphasises their commitment to quality packaging. “We use natural colouring agents, sugar (as opposed to cheap and harmful sweetening agents), and sturdy, recyclable plastic bottles. Our bottles are properly sealed and designed to prevent children from accidentally swallowing the marble, ensuring safety and quality.”

So, pop the marble, unleash the fizz, and savour the taste of a bygone era. More than just a drink, it is a symbol of local tradition and a nostalgic reminder of simpler times.

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