A group of British Muslim businessmen launched a campaign yesterday to tackle one of America's corporate giants. Thousands of cans of Mecca-Cola were handed out at mosques in Birmingham and Regent's Park in London, before a full-scale launch of the drink next January.
It all began last year at the whim of a 10-year-old. A French entrepreneur, Tawfik Mathloufi, asked his son to give up drinking Coke because of its American corporate association. His son agreed, but only if an alternative was provided.
M. Mathloufi saw a gap in the market and has had success with Mecca-Cola in France and the Middle East. His company gives 10 per cent of proceeds to Islamic Relief, which funds Palestinian charities, including an orphanage.
When Rashad Yaqoob, 31, a Yorkshire-born lawyer and investment banker, saw M. Mathloufi interviewed on the BBC, he tracked him down and offered to help him with legal advice and setting up the brand in Britain.
Now Mr Yaqoob aims to capture 5 per cent of the cola market in this country. Worldwide, he said, the company was selling "about 50 million litres a month". Most of that is in the Middle East but there is a significant market in France, where sales are at 800,000 litres a month. "There's a very strong anti-American sentiment," Mr Yaqoob said. "Coca-Cola represents the excess of corporate America.
"We wanted to give a bloody nose directly to the number one corporation that represents corporate America because corporate America represents Bush and Bush represents neo-conservatism."
Mr Yaqoob said the drink was less sugary than Coke and was made from organic sugar.
"It's a question of perspective. We have something which is an established product people are going to drink [regardless]," he said.
Mecca-Cola has previously given out thousands of cans at Stop the War rallies. It was described yesterday as a "soft launch" before an aggressive distribution to start in the new year.
The director of communications for Coca-Cola Amatil in Britain, Martin Norris, said yesterday that he "welcomed the competition.
"As far as we are concerned, we have a thriving business in Palestine, which employs over 200 people and is one of the biggest contributors to the Palestinian Authority," Mr Norris said.
"At the end of the day, what it's about is the consumer and what we strive to do is to serve the UK consumer or consumers in any country quality refreshment.
"We are a company which may have its foundations in the States but we are local, with 5,000 British employees here."
Mr Yaqoob said the British arm of Mecca-Cola would subject its accounts to an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, after which 20 per cent of profits would be given to charity. As well as half of that going to Islamic Relief, the intention was to give to the peace movement in Britain, a Christian church in Leamington Spa, a mosque in Birmingham, a Bengali group in east London and to a Jewish charity.
In keeping with Muslim ideals, the Mecca-Cola can states: "Please do not mix with alcohol."
Mecca-Cola will not be the first attempt to get a cola aimed at Muslim buyers into Britain. In February this year, a businesswoman in Derby, Zahida Parveen, launched Qibla-Cola, saying 10 per cent of profits would go towards the charity Islamic Aid.
BATTLE OF THE COLAS
Taking the Mecca challenge: workers at Canary Wharf in London mark the drinks out of five in a blind taste test.
Patricia Harvey, 57, schoolteacher from New Cross, south-east London;
Mecca: "4; sweet but a bit flat."
Pepsi: "5; that's got more of a citrus taste."
Coke: "3; a bit tasteless."
Aurelia Ludeau, 22, a sales assistant from Manor House, north London;
Mecca: "3; it tastes OK."
Pepsi: "4; I can't notice the difference."
Coke: "5; this one is good."
Graham Gill, 40, a nightclub owner from Canary Wharf;
Mecca: "2; that's too sweet."
Pepsi: "3; that's Pepsi."
Coke: "2; I can't tell the difference between the other two."
Thomas Koshy, 27, an information technology worker from Bombay, India;
Mecca: "4; I think it's Coke. I like Coke."
Pepsi: "2 and a half; that's Pepsi."
Coke: "3; this has to be the new one."
Karen McKelvey, 31, office temp, from Canning Town, east London;
Mecca: "2; a bit flat, a bit different, it's not as sweet."
Pepsi: "3; tastes OK."
Coke: "4; sweet."
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