The Washington Post
Mecca-Cola, for Thirsty Parisians Of a Persuasion; New Soda Pledges to Give To Palestinian Kids’ Funds Byline: Corinne Gavard Special to the Washington Post
Enter any small ethnic shop in central Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb, and it’s impossible to miss the bottles of Mecca-Cola, displayed next to Coca-Cola and sometimes even taking its place on the shelves.
“Since January I’ve been selling much more Mecca-Cola than Coke,” said Azziz Metkini, speaking in French with a heavy North African accent. “My
customers are mostly Muslim, they prefer this new brand.”
Mecca-Cola’s red-and-white label looks a lot like Coke’s, and the taste is very similar. But there’s a key difference that makes the drink popular
in this working-class district: A green blurb on its label pledges that 10 percent of the profit on every bottle will be donated to Palestinian
children’s funds and 10 percent to charities in France.
Mecca-Cola went on sale in November, pioneering a new marketing concept here: soft drinks for a political cause. It has done sufficiently well
that last week, two more political colas were launched in France, “Arab-Cola” and “Muslim Up.”
Tawfik Mathlouthi, Mecca-Cola Beverage Co.’s founder, says he doesn’t want to be considered a businessman. With small, round glasses, a clean-cut
beard and an ever-present smile, Mathlouthi, 46, calls himself “nothing but a journalist.”A Frenchman of Tunisian origin, he owns a small, Paris-based radio station, Radio Mediterranee, on which he presents a political show every Sunday.
“I’m not anti-American,” he said, “I’m just opposed to Bush’s actions.”
Before creating Mecca-Cola, Mathlouthi said, he applied to work for Zam-Zam Cola in Europe but was turned away; Zam-Zam had replaced Pepsi-Cola in Iran after American business’s departure from that country. So he decided to create his own boycott beverage, but to take the concept a step further by helping charities and giving job opportunities to minorities.
Today, eight people work day and night in Mecca-Cola’s cramped office, operating under the slogan “Don’t drink stupid. Drink committed.”
The product has quickly found foreign customers. So far, the company is exporting to 22 countries, and not all of them Muslim-majority. Of the
3.6 million bottles sold in the three months beginning in November, Mathlouthi said, 1.1 million were for the French market. One million went to Italy, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands and the remaining 1.5 million to Morocco, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries. Lately, the company has signed deals in California and Michigan, according to Mathlouthi.
Paddy MacGregor, spokesman for Coca-Cola in London, said that “the impact of Mecca-Cola on Coke’s sales is minimal.” In his view, “the main competition right now is not between Mecca-Cola and Coke but among political colas.”
Newcomer beverage Arab-Cola was launched by a Frenchman born in Morocco, Gerard Leblanc. He contends that Mecca-Cola is “dangerous,” because it uses a religious reference in its name, while his cola only refers to an ethnicity. Leblanc adds: “I don’t believe their donation credo.”
Mecca-Cola says that it definitely will give money to charity and has gone to great pains to assure that its donations don’t go to terrorism.
After a year of business, the company will calculate its profit in November, and the Mecca-Cola Foundation, which the company describes as an independent association, will collect and distribute 20 percent of it to charities.
Ten percent will go to buy books and school equipment for Palestinian children, and the other 10 percent will go to local charities in France,
Mathlouthi said. It is important for the Mecca-Cola boss to donate goods and not cash, states Mathlouthi: “We don’t want people to think that we
support soldiers or terrorist groups, only suffering children.”
Sales are growing, but on Paris streets, many people have not heard of the new drink. An older shopkeeper of Algerian origin was not enthusiastic.
“I think it’s a shame to use an Islamic holy place to sell a nasty beverage,” he said.