The King of Fizz
Every time we want to sip on a cold drink the names that come to our mind are Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew and the other multinational brands from Coca-Cola or PepsiCo. But Goa has a home-grown brand that capitalized on the market when George Fernandes and company kicked out Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the late 1970’s and has withered the storm and held its ground even after the return of the biggies.
Govind Dessai’s N-Jal, previously known as Jal, is one of Goa’s locally-bottled range of cold-drinks that has sweetened the mouth of many and today has crossed borders and quenched thirsts in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra too. Govind, based in Cotta Fatorpa near Cuncolim, is a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Botany who once had an offer for employment as a Range Forest Officer but declined it in favour of getting into business. He first set up a poultry farm 1978, but that did not run well. Taking another risk, he started a soda-manufacturing unit, Coldima Soda Industries, that produced soda under the brand name Jal in 1981, just behind his house, a location that still serves as his main manufacturing facility.
Govind recollects how he was a near-pauper those days. “To start the unit, I borrowed funds from around 20 friends back then. They contributed Rs 500 to Rs 1,900 each, and I was able to collect Rs 12,000. The rest I collected by selling the birds of my failed poultry business,” he says. “I also took a loan from a bank and acquired 10,000 bottles to sell the soda in. The next challenge was to make crates to transport the bottles. A relative of mine gave me a dead mango tree to use the wood. With my own hands I cut the log and made 400 crates for the soda unit.”
He tells us that he had a staff of two to three daily wage workers along with whom he filled the soda himself in the bottles. He used to manually draw the water from the well to make the aerated soda. In 1982, he added another 5,000 bottles of capacity for an Orange-flavoured Jal cold drink. It didn’t take him much longer to start manufacturing the popular lime and cola flavours also. Since Coke and Pepsi had exited Indian markets in 1977, the demand for his cold drinks was big. Back then, Top Soda, Bisleri and Crunette dominated in Goa, but Govind was determined to break into the market. In his early years he achieved a phenomenal growth despite frequent power cuts at a time when owning a generator was a dream.
Govind smiles and tell us that starting a soda factory then was not what he really wanted to do. He always wanted to own an ice-cream unit in Navelim close to a school, but his friends advised not to venture into such a unit because of the frequent power shutdowns, that’s when he decided to go with the fizz. His Jal soda and cold drinks started catering to the local market around his house. His sales got a boost from the people of Velim, Betul, Canaguinim, Fatorpa. He then made inroads into the markets of Assolna, Quepem and Dandeawado. In 1993, the then industries minister sanctioned Govind a government loan of Rs 10,000. That’s when Govind decided to revamp the unit and made the entire unit automatic. The brand was renamed ‘N-Jal’ which then meant ‘New Jal’ and later to simply ‘N-Jal’ along with a logo consisting of an angel because that is what the name sounds like. More flavours like ginger jeera flavor were added to the range.
About 6 years ago N-Jal took a giant stride and started distribution outside Goa. Today N-Jal has 6 distributers in Maharashtra and 2 in Karwar. Govind considers the biggest feather in the N-Jal cap to be its advertising campaign.
N-Jal’s brand ambassadors, ex-footballer Bruno Coutinho, actor Varsha Usgaonkar and Marathi film star Mulund Gunaji have taken his cold drinks far and wide in Goa and Maharashtra and their loyal fans are now loyal customers of N-Jal, he opines. He has now started a campaign to market his beverages in PET bottles and festival packs.
Govind remembers the great Indian brands in the soft drink industry - Dukes, Torino, Gold Spot, Double 7, Double Cola, Boranto C – and feels it was unwise of these companies to sell off their brands just because the two giant brands returned to India. He adds, “It was hard when Coca-Cola and PepsiCo returned, but one has to realize that the target market between them and us is different and continue sailing the ship.”
Govind plans to up his production once again by upgrading from his existing 120-bottles-per-unit plant to a 360-bottles-per-unit plant. He knows the investment is big but he is confident that he stands tall in his market and is proud that his unit has always met the health authorities’ and Food Production Organization standards whenever checks have been conducted.
“N-Jal has also diversified into Tonic water of different flavours under the brand name Trik. I felt the trickling sound of a fizzy drink was just perfect for my Tonic water brand,” Govind adds. The company currently employs over 100 people under its Cotyar Beverages umbrella and Govind’s advice is that business should be treated as a passion and not just a means to make money. His son Yuvraj has trained at a Tetra Pak unit in Hyderabad during the course of his MBA and he hopes his children will continue his legacy of quenching thirst.