Coca-Cola in North Korea? It’s (usu­ally not) the real thing

Malta Independent - - BUSINESS CLASSIFIEDS -

Coca-Cola is pos­si­bly the world's most rec­og­niz­able brand, an al­most in­escapable sym­bol of the global ap­peal of Amer­i­can-style con­sumer cul­ture. There are only two coun­tries in the world where Coke doesn't of­fi­cially op­er­ate, and one of them is North Korea.

But even the North is de­vel­op­ing quite a taste for cola — though the iconic red-and-white la­beled bot­tles the cola comes in likely are not ex­actly the Real Thing and their twist tops need a bit more than the usual cau­tion. They have a ten­dency to leak or refuse to come off at all.

North Korea and Cuba are the only coun­tries where Coca-Cola Co. has no op­er­a­tions, said com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Ann Moore. Coke doesn't do busi­ness with ei­ther be­cause of sanc­tions.

That doesn't stop Coke making its way over the North Korean bor­der, how­ever.

Coke bot­tled in China and bear­ing Chi­nese la­bels isn't hard to find in North Korea's rel­a­tively af­flu­ent cap­i­tal, Py­ongyang. It is sold in up­scale gro­cery stores that cater to the cap­i­tal's elite and a grow­ing num­ber of mid­dle class res­i­dents, who are in­creas­ingly earn­ing enough hard cash through en­tre­pre­neur­ial side busi­nesses to pur­chase more than bare ne­ces­si­ties.

Coke from China can also be quaffed in in­ter­na­tional ho­tels fre­quented by both lo­cals who can af­ford their high prices and for­eign tourists and busi­ness peo­ple, most of them from China as well. Pepsi sight­ings are rarer.

The cola served at restau­rants and lin­ing the shelves in stores where more typ­i­cal North Kore­ans shop are likely to be lo­cal im­i­ta­tions, though one of the more pop­u­lar ones could, from a dis­tance, eas­ily pass as a Coke.

Its 1.25-liter bot­tle has the same Coke shape, the Coke-like red and white la­bel, the dis­tinc­tive red cap. But in­stead of the usual Chi­nese pho­netic char­ac­ters for Coca-Cola, it has "Co­coa-fla­vored Sweet Soda Drink" splashed across its la­bel in yel­low Korean let­ter­ing.

The la­bel also promi­nently fea­tures a bar code and the uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized anti-lit­ter­ing logo of a per­son re­spon­si­bly toss­ing his trash in a bin. It in­cludes a calo­rie count and the ad­dress and phone num­ber of the bot­tler, the Won­bong Trad­ing Co. in Py­ongyang. Such num­bers can only be ac­cessed by North Kore­ans us­ing the North Korean phone net­work.

So no com­ment there.

How does it taste?

Not bad, it turns out. Good fizz. In­dis­tin­guish­able ap­pear­ance. If you like Coke, it's a very good fac­sim­ile. Some other sim­i­lar so­das claim­ing to be co­coa-fla­vored but not aim­ing to match Coke's taste do in fact taste like choco­late.

Back in 2000, when ties be­tween the U.S. and North Korea were go­ing through some­thing of a thaw, there were wide­spread ru­mors that Coke was on the verge of of­fi­cially break­ing into the mar­ket. Blame North Korea's de­ci­sion to de­velop nu­clear weapons for doom­ing that plan.

The lo­cally bot­tled ver­sions of Coke-like drinks have filled the vac­uum.

Air Ko­ryo, the coun­try's flag­ship air­line, re­cently in­tro­duced its own brand of cola on flights to and from Beijing. That's not quite as odd as it might sound. Like many large state-run en­ter­prises, the air­line also op­er­ates a fleet of taxis, has at least one gas sta­tion in Py­ongyang and puts its name on other soft drinks in or­der to turn a profit.

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