The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taking on Coke

Taking on Coke
By Suzanne McGee, MSN Money
view article here

This article is part of a series that MSNBC is doing on China. It discussed a company called Wahaha, which is a softdrink/beverage company that is hugely popular over much of Asia. It dominates the beverage market in China, at least in niches where coke or pepsi don't have a competing product.

As someone who's spent several months in rural China, and nearly 3 years living in S.E. Asia, I thought the premise of the article was silly.

McGee writes, "While Wahaha's milk and yogurt drinks are also on display, its new cola products, Future Cola and Coffee Cola, are nowhere to be seen."

This just doesn’t mesh with my own experience. I bought Future Cola all over Sichuan and Yunnan in 2003. My friends tell me they've been aware of it since at least 2001.

"Wahaha now has 36 subsidiaries in the provinces, producing and distributing everything from Wahaha's bottled water and milk-based drinks to Future Cola. In many of these areas, local residents have never been able to buy Coke's products -- or can't afford them."

This statement doesn't match reality. I've trekked through some of the more remote villages in China and all over S.E. Asia, and I have never seen a place that doesn’t have coke products in stock. Granted, in places like Vietnam, Pepsi is more popular, but you can always find Coke. Coke is most certainly affordable to the average person as well. In fact, the reason why coke does so well in China is because everyone wants to drink the “American” novelty drink, and frankly, future cola tastes bad, it’s too sweet, and it’s always flat.

"It doesn't bother Yang that Future Cola can't be found on the shelves of the big stores in Beijing or Shanghai."

Again, this is silly. The article states later that their products are all over S.E. Asia and even the USA in Asian food stores (I've bought them in these places myself). I've found them all over Beijing as early as 2003.

I'm glad that MSNBC is taking an interest in China, and I'm sure Ms. McGee is very capable at what she does. I wish however, that MSNBC would seek more insight from expat writers and journalists based in Asia for their stories. Please understand, I don’t mean to single out Ms. McGee for the following criticism, as it’s a problem in all the American media. So many of the stories in western media are so superficial and inaccurate because the journalists who are covering them either write them from their offices in New York, or at most make a trivial visit to Beijing for an “official” story without investigating the real story themselves. If they would instead be more open to consulting freelance writers and journalists (I admit, this is a selfish pitch), news stories would have a much greater depth, accuracy and less cultural misunderstanding.

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