The Duke Returns

The news brought back to Zeba Kohli the memories of her childhood. "I was reminded of our family's weekend outings and trips to Matheran and Pune, when the most important part of the picnic basket was the bright red-coloured fizzy drink," recollects the chocolatier who was "genuinely delighted" when she heard that Duke's, the popular brand of aerated beverages, is being revived in the market after a seven-year hiatus.

The relaunch of the 102-year-old brand has evoked nostalgia among many. The brand, first established in 1989 by Dinshwaji Cooverji Pundole, an Indian cricketer of Parsi origin, was a local favourite for the distinct flavours it had to offer Tango, Raspberry, Ginger, Pineapple and Lemonade. The psychedelic colours, refreshing taste and lack of any substantial competition made Duke's a household favourite. "In those days, one could not afford to have a cold drink every day; they were a novelty. So Duke's became the prize you got when you scored well in exams, the Sunday family ritual or the cool thing to impress the lady with when on a date," laughs 68-year-old Alan Fernandes, who used to run a cold drinks shop in Byculla until a decade ago.

The brand's journey was not all-smooth. In the 1950s, it faced stiff competition from Coca-Cola, which had just launched in India. But Pundole is said to have survived the onslaught by launching Mangola, the very first Indian packaged drink made using mango pulp. The legacy of Duke's lasted under Pundoles' leadership till 1994, when it was brought over PepsiCo.

By 2004, Duke's was withdrawn from the market altogether, with the exception of Duke's Lemonade a move, it is said, aimed at focussing on the sales of their home brand, Pepsi.

The recent relaunch, says Mishra, is aimed at tapping into the "evolved consumer palette". "Consumer research indicates that they want something different and exciting now," says Sanjay Mishra, Executive Director-West Market Unit, PepsiCo Beverages, India. However, instead of launching all the varieties, PepsiCo has re-introduced the popular Raspberry, Ice Cream Soda and Gingerale, while adding a new flavour, Masala Soda, to the line.

Mishra hopes to rope in the younger generation with this move. Mumbai's Parsi community in this case will play a huge role, with raspberry-flavoured drinks a staple at Irani cafes even today. "We are delighted to have Duke's back," assures 31-year-old Vistasp Contractor, a member of the small community. However, nostalgia can sometimes prove to be a double-edged sword. Afshin Kahinoor, the owner of Britannia & Co, rues that the 200 ml bottles are expensive when compared to Pallonji's Raspberry, which is available in 300ml for the same price.

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