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Tamil Nadu shops boycott soft drinks of PepsiCo, Coca-Cola

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-03-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai/Bengaluru: Coke and Pepsi disappeared from most shop shelves in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, as traders in the state began a boycott of the multinational cola giants.

An apex body of traders associations in January called for a boycott of soft drinks made by PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd and Coca-Cola India, but some shops have also stopped selling other products made by the two companies.

“Most of the small traders have already boycotted; bigger shops still continue to sell. It will take few more days to assess the actual impact. So far, it has been good and we would continue to campaign against the products,” said a member of the apex traders’ association called Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peramaipu.

After a petition by the US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) led to a Supreme Court ban on Jallikkattu, protesters seeking a return of the bull-taming sport had turned their ire on American cola giants such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

ALSO READ: Riding on Jallikattu protests, Tamil Nadu traders look to ban Pepsi, Coca-Cola

The products, though, are still available at outlets of large retail chains and supermarkets such as Reliance and More.

The traders’ association had said in January that its decision was made with the approval of 6,000 affiliated member associations. Over 1.5 million members, it said, have decided to promote local beverages instead.

Coca-Cola’s bottling operation in Tamil Nadu is managed by its bottling arm Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, and an independent co-packer. Hindustan Coca-Cola, in 2015, had to scrap plans for a new bottling plant at Perundurai in Tamil Nadu following local protests. PepsiCo has three bottling plants in Tamil Nadu.

Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi did not want to comment on the boycott, but the Indian Beverage Association (IBA) issued a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed” with the move.

“This call is against the proven fundamentals of robust economic growth and against the clarion call of Making in India. The boycott call also violates the rights of the consumer to exercise choice,” the IBA said in a statement.

Pepsi and Coca-Cola together provide direct employment to 2,000 families in Tamil Nadu and more than 200,000 retailers earn over Rs400 crore by selling products made by both companies, the IBA added.

“I stopped buying stocks since January, when the (traders’) association decided to boycott. Though I have my shop in Chennai, I’m a native of Tirunelveli and have seen the protests over the last few years, when Pepsi tried to set up a factory,” said N. Senthil, a small trader in Chennai.

The IBA said its member companies have skilled farmers and retailers who are “deeply involved in ensuring the welfare and sustenance of local community” and have adopted local villages, restored water bodies, built check dams and helped in poverty alleviation. The association said it is open to engage with any organisation that has a different point of view.

Agitation against these soft drink companies is not new to Tamil Nadu. In November 2015, hundreds of villagers protested in front of the SIPCOT Industrial Growth Centre in Gangaikondan village in Tirunelveli after the state government allowed PepsiCo to build a factory there.

The villagers were against the drawing of water from the Thamirabarani river. There have been online campaigns against the factory too. However, in November, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court granted an interim injunction restraining Coca-Cola and PepsiCo from using the waters from the river.

Sounak Mitra in Delhi contributed to this story.

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