May 12, 2007

Coca-Cola vs. Coca Sek

Coca-Cola Vs. Coca Sek in Colombia[U]ntil recently, [President Alvaro Uribe's] hardline government had not gone after natural coca products made by Indians, acknowledging that millions of peasants have chewed calcium-rich coca for thousands of years to stave off hunger and as a remedy for ailments from altitude sickness to stomach aches.

Uribe's presidential Web site even promoted natural coca products as a rare commercial enterprise for poor Indian communities, and the federal food-safety agency provided quality-control advice to the manufacturers of coca tea, cookies, shampoo and other consumer goods.

That suddenly changed in February, when Uribe's administration started banning the sale of coca products outside the reservations where Indians have a constitutional right to grow the hearty plant. Though it's still possible to find coca products at boutique markets and health food stores, inspectors have begun to forcibly remove them from supermarket shelves.

What prompted the switch?

For one, the success of Coca Sek, an energy drink made by the Nasa Indian tribe.

The carbonated drink made with coca, which looks like apple cider and tastes vaguely like ginger ale, was becoming a trendy alternative to Coca-Cola among Colombia's urban youth. The logo on the can even mimicked the popular U.S. soft drink's curvy script.

Newspapers around the world ran David-and-Goliath stories about the challenge by an unknown Indian tribe to the U.S. soda behemoth.

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