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Vol. XXVIII No. 2, May 1-15, 2018

New life for Goli Soda

In recent times, the words ‘Goli Soda’ became famous in Tamil Nadu as the title of a successful Tamil feature film released in 2014, warranting a sequel titled Goli Soda-2 which is under production. It is also the name of an online store in Chennai which showcases products of innovative designers using recycled materials. But to a whole generation of Indians, Goli soda, or Goti soda meant a fruit flavoured soft drink used to quench a thirsty throat in the sizzling summer months. The popping of the ‘goli’ or the marble, with the index finger paves the way for the fizz coming out of the bottle, which was an experience by itself. When I had this experience at a party in Chennai recently, I decided to explore the story behind the ‘Goli Soda’.

The bottle and the idea for the drink were imported into India in the early 20th Century. Hiram Codd of Camberwell, UK, designed, developed and patented the Codd Bottle for carbonated drinks in 1872. Also termed as the Codd-neck bottle, it encloses a marble and a rubber washer/gasket in the neck. The bottle is filled upside down, and the pressure of the gas in the bottle forces the marble against the washer, sealing in the carbonation.

The 150-year-old eco-friendly bottle has remained unchanged over the years, and the design is quite ingenious. One side of the bottle has two ridges on the neck. It is only from this side that the drink can be poured out into a glass or straight into the mouth. Try pouring it out the other side, and the marble automatically pobs up and acts as a stopper.

The Codd Bottle became popular in Europe, Asia and Australasia but not in the USA. In Japan, it is popular under the brand name ‘Ramune’ available in 36 flavours. In India, the Codd Bottle is also known as kancha bottle, goli bottle, and soda bottle in different parts of the country, Goli Soda being the most popular name: available in two varieties viz. Plain Soda Water (Aerated Soda Water) and Flavoured Soda Water (Aerated Beverages) containing flavours of lemon, ginger (masala soda), milk rose (panneer), mango, pineapple etc., in syrup base. This preparation is also made using a carbon dioxide gas (CO2) under pressure.

Goli Soda production was essentially a cottage industry in India because of the ease with which the manually operated system could be set up. In the past, many a well-to-do family had a unit operating within their homes. The clinking and clanging sound of the bottles by the vendors promoting various local brands of Goli Soda was a familiar sight near bus and rail terminals across the country.

The advent of the multinational soft drink brands and a whole range of regional brands of soft drinks available in disposable plastic bottles at affordable prices almost sounded the death knell for the traditional Goli Soda makers. Besides the high cost of the Codd bottle and also stringent rules governing food & beverages have resulted in many of the traditional bottlers of Goli Soda exiting the market. According to a veteran Goli soda maker in the city, Madras had close to 500 soda manufacturers in the 1970s. The number today has dwindled to less than 30. Most of them are cheap products produced in unhealthy surroundings without any quality checks and are sold at Rs 10/- or less.

Kali Aerated Water Works, one of the oldest soft drink manufacturers in the country with brands like ‘Bovonto’, was a popular Goli Soda maker in Tamil Nadu. They exited the business because of difficulties involved in cleaning the bottle. The shortage of glass bottles controlled by a single supplier in the country based in UP also added to the difficulties.

There is, however, hope for the revival of this business thanks to the initiative of some young entrepreneurs, professionals who have given up secure corporate jobs in order to give the Goli Soda its fizz back. In its new avatar Goli Soda is positioned as a premium product. In an attempt to capitalise on the growing apprehensions about the negative effects of plastic bottles on the health of the people, they are promoting the eco-friendly nature of the glass bottles used in Goli Soda. The fact that the new brands are adhering to quality standards prescribed by FSSAI and are produced in hygienic conditions adds credibility to the new efforts.

The brands are also trying to invoke nostalgia in old-timers and offering the younger generation a new experience of drinking an alternative soft drink in recyclable glass bottles, with less preservatives, chemicals and plastic contaminants. The negative publicity against the multinational brands and the decision of the dealers to boycott such brands in Tamil Nadu last year have opened a window of opportunity for the Goli Sodas in the highly competitive soft drink market.

Though priced at Rs.50 plus, (some high-end restaurants sell the product at Rs.125) the growing popularity of Goli Soda among the younger generation belonging to the upper class in Chennai, especially at parties, high end restaurants and the popular clubs, where these brands are available, provides hope for the revival of the Goli Soda idea. But how will any new comer face the perennial problem of short supply of the Codd bottles, when they decide to scale up, is an issue for which there seems to be no immediate answer. Yet I am sure that the young men and women will find a solution to the problem as and when they have to cross that bridge!

R.V. Rajan

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