Vimto: A Saudi love story in a bottle

Courtesy photo.
Updated 08 March 2018
0

Vimto: A Saudi love story in a bottle

LONDON: There would not appear to be much to link the rainy northwest of Britain and the searing heat of the vast desert expanses of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf — and even less likely that the link might come in a bottle.
Eighty years ago, an Indian employee of a family firm named Abdulla Aujan & Brothers introduced his bosses to a cordial drink from Britain which, he explained, had become very popular in India, which was then still a British colony.
The drink was a hit with the bosses too, and so began one of the most enduring love affairs between the Gulf region and Britain.
The drink was Vimto, a sugary blend of fruits, berries and secret herbs that was initially sold as a medicinal tonic but is now the beverage of choice in the Middle East, especially during Ramadan. Indeed no self-respecting host would consider not having a jug of thirst-quenching iced Vimto on hand ready for Iftar and suhoor.
Eating dates may be the traditional way to break the fast, and coincidentally dates are a key factor in Vimto’s popularity. When the drink took off in the Middle East the recipe was tweaked to include the fruit which is dear to all Arab hearts.
“The recipe for Vimto produced in the Middle East contains date paste. That commonality of date flavouring really cemented Vimto as the drink of choice,” said Eddie Stableford, who worked on Vimeo branding in the late 1990s and is now innovation director with Wonderstruck Branding Design.
“Many other drinks have come along over the years and there are cheaper colas out there, but Vimto is the product that delivers.
“It’s a sign of quality. It’s been around a long time so it’s familiar and reassuring. And because it’s got a long history there’s a nostalgia factor. It has fond associations for people.”
A cursory search on social media reveals just how deep the Arab attachment to Vimto has become since that first taste in 1928.
“Is it really Ramadan without Vimto?” asked one fan on Twitter, while another posted misty-eyed reminiscences about watching his mother pour Vimto cordial into a jug full of ice in preparation for the end of prayers signalling that Iftar could begin.
While Vimto is popular year-round, sales really go through the roof at Ramadan. In fact almost three quarters of Vimto’s Middle East sales occur during the month of fasting and it has at times proved necessary to restrict customers to two bottles apiece to ensure supplies do not run out.
It is easy to see why. At the end of a long and tiring day without sustenance, the sugar boost in Vimto provides an instant pick-me-up.
Vimto arrived in the Middle East in 1928 but it was invented 20 years earlier by John Noel Nichols, a wholesaler trader of herbs, spices and medicines in Manchester, the northwestern English city that was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.
He launched his new concoction as Vimtonic, a herbal tonic to give “vim and vigour” to those who drank it, but before long the name was shortened to Vimto. It was registered as a medicine and the cordial could be diluted with hot, cold or soda water. Advertisements from those early years claimed it “builds up the system” and “eliminates that out-of-sorts feeling.”
In the early 1920s, Richard Goodsir, a representative of the Kiwi boot polish company and a friend of John Noel Nichols, took a few samples of Vimto cordial to India with him for local bottling plants to try out. There was a readymade market on hand in the form of British troops, but the Indian population also developed a liking for Vimto and its popularity soon spread to neighboring parts of the British Empire, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Burma (now Myanmar).
So when Indians began flocking to the Gulf to take up clerical jobs, naturally many of them took some Vimto cordial with them, which is how Abdulla Aujan & Brothers in Saudi Arabia came upon it.
They soon saw its potential. Invented at the height of the anti-alcohol Temperance movement in Britain, it trumpeted its non-alcoholic content, making it both suitable and appealing to Muslim consumers. The company struck a deal to become sole importers and distributors of the cordial.
It was shipped in crates from Salford, just outside Manchester, offloaded in Bahrain and transported around the Arabian peninsula in dhows. In 1979 Aujan & Brothers began producing Vimto under license at a factory in Dammam.
“A member of the Nichols family went out to Saudi Arabia and personally handed over the recipe, which remains a family secret to this day — and yes, the people who know the recipe never travel together,” said Stableford.
Today, Vimto is available in 85 countries and counting, and in 38 out of 40 Muslim countries. But Saudi Arabia is still the biggest non-domestic market, with Vimto-lovers consuming 52 million bottles a year of it in cordial, still (ready-diluted) and fizzy form, although the cordial remains most popular by far.
For the makers of Vimto, success has been sweet indeed — literally doubly so in the Middle East. The Vimto sold there is double concentration to cater to the region’s extra sweet tooth.
The next biggest non-domestic markets are Kuwait and the UAE. Within Saudi Arabia, Vimto has a 90 percent share in the concentrated drinks market.
Even adverts for Vimto — Aujan launch a new campaign each year on Arab satellite TV stations — have achieved cult status.
In the 1990s, Vimto expanded into continental Europe and into confectionery. But the war in Yemen has disrupted distribution there because supply routes are under blockade. No Vimto concentrate was shipped there in December.
Change in the Saudi economy is expected to mean a slowdown in sales this year with profits for 2018 not expected to exceed the low single-digit mark.
On the other hand, UK sales were up nine percent as of November 2017 while revenues in Africa are expected to show a 20 percent increase.
However, Nichols — still the owners of Vimto — say the company was well-prepared for the introduction of tax on sugary drinks in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Regional turmoil notwithstanding, it seems Vimto will continue to keep its customers sweet.
“There’s a lot of choice out there these days but people love Vimto because they know it, they recognize it and they trust it,” said Stableford. “It does exactly what a brand should do. It’s the real deal.”


’No place for a mother’: S. Korea battles to raise birth rate

(FILES) This photo taken on March 22, 2016 shows a child gesturing to a woman at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (AFP)
Updated 18 December 2018
0

’No place for a mother’: S. Korea battles to raise birth rate

  • Now 27, she has been rejected at several job interviews as soon as she revealed she had a child, and has given up seeking employment, trying to set up her own trading business instead

SEOUL: When Ashley Park started her marketing job at a Seoul drugmaker she had a near-perfect college record, flawless English, and got on well with her colleagues — none of which mattered to her employer once she fell pregnant.
Nine months after she joined, Park said, “They said to my face that there is no place in the company for a woman with a child, so I needed to quit.”
All the women working at the firm were single or childless, she suddenly realized, and mostly below 40.
Park’s case exemplifies why so many South Korean women are put off marriage and childbirth, pushing the country’s birth rate — one of the world’s lowest — ever further down.
Earlier this month Seoul announced its latest set of measures to try to stem the decline, but critics say they will have little to no effect in the face of deep-seated underlying causes.
Many South Korean firms are reluctant to employ mothers, doubting their commitment to the company and fearing that they will not put in the long hours that are standard in the country — as well as to avoid paying for their legally-entitled birth leave.
When Park refused to quit, her boss relentlessly bullied her — banning her from attending business meetings and ignoring her at the office “like I was an invisible ghost” — and management threatened to fire her husband, who worked at the same company.
After fighting for about six months, she finally relented and offered her resignation, giving birth to a daughter a month later. Aside from a brief stint at an IT start-up that did not keep its promise of flexible working hours, she has been a stay-at-home mother ever since.
“I studied and worked so hard for years to get a job when youth unemployment was so high, and enjoyed my work so much... and look what happened to me,” Park told AFP.
Now 27, she has been rejected at several job interviews as soon as she revealed she had a child, and has given up seeking employment, trying to set up her own trading business instead.
“The government kept telling women to have more children... but how, in a country like this?” she asked.

The South’s fertility rate — the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime — fell to 0.95 in the third quarter of 2018, the first time it has dropped below 1 and far short of the 2.1 needed to maintain stability.
As a result of the trend, which has been dubbed a “birth strike” by women, the population of the world’s 11th largest economy, currently 51 million, is expected to start falling in 2028.
Many cite reasons ranging from the expense of child-rearing, high youth unemployment, long working hours and limited daycare to career setbacks for working mothers.
Even if women hold on to their jobs, they bear a double burden of carrying out the brunt of household chores.
Patriarchal values remain deeply ingrained in the South: nearly 85 percent of South Korean men back the idea of women working, according to a state survey, but that plummets to 47 percent when asked whether they would support their own wives having a job.
Employment rates for married men and women are dramatically different — 82 percent and 53 percent respectively.
Now nearly three-quarters of South Korean women aged 20-40 see marriage as unnecessary, an opinion poll by a financial magazine and a recruitment website showed. But almost all children in the South are born in wedlock.

Against that backdrop, the South’s government has spent a whopping 136 trillion won ($121 billion) since 2005 to try to boost the birth rate, mostly through campaigns to encourage more young people to wed and reproduce, without success.
Earlier this month it announced yet another round of measures.
They included expanding child subsidies of up to 300,000 won ($270) a month, and allowing parents with children younger than eight to work an hour less each day to take care of their offspring.
More daycare centers and kindergartens will be built, and men will be allowed — but not obliged — to take 10 days of paid birth leave, up from the current three.
But many measures were not legally binding and carried no punishment for firms that denied their workers the promised benefits, and the package met a disdainful response.
“The government policies are based on this simplistic assumption that ‘if we give more money, people would have more children’,” the Korea Women Workers Association said in a statement.
Seoul should first address “relentless sexual discrimination at work and the double burden of work and housechores” for women, it added.
The centrist Korea Times newspaper also questioned whether such “lacklustre” state policies would bring in real change unless the government tackled the real drivers of women shunning marriage and childbirth.
“Unless these harsh conditions for women change, no amount of government subsidies will convince women having children is a happy choice.”