New Delhi: A single piece of Rola Cola contains far more than its listed ingredients. There’s a generous splash of sentiment, the far-reaching arms of social media and the practicality of an affordable price tag, all of which came together for one of the sweetest comeback stories of the year.
A hybrid hit of hedonism
Wrapped in a bright red and black cylindrical packet, the hard-boiled, coin-sized candy stood small, but proud, on the shoulders of the idea that one could eat Coca-Cola instead of drinking it. Marketed as such, Parle’s ‘thirst quencher’ sweet was an affordable alternative to the soft drink and provided that satisfying cola flavour for those born in the 70s and early 80s.
“It felt like sipping a tall glass of cola when you popped this candy into your mouth,” recalls Vinny Bhatia, a 32-year-old IT professional. “I remember its taste and smell so well even today.”
The versatile ‘Cola ka Gola,’ was her “absolute favourite toffee…I remember sipping chilled Rola Cola in a chilled glass of soda,” she tells ThePrint.
She further recollects how she, along with her friends, “used to melt these cola-flavoured pellets in soda and mix it well. We enjoyed it as a homemade soft drink.”
When Coca-Cola returned to India in 1993 after 17 years of market exile, it was met with open arms and a different set of rules. Pepsi, which had strategically ceded to a partnership with the Punjab government in 1988, and Thums Up — India’s own answer to the cola giants — weren’t going to give up their share of the market without a fight. By now, the children of the 70s and 80s had grown up on a fluctuating but consistent exposure to cola flavours. In 1991, they were about to become truly spoilt for choice.
In the blind spots of the cola wars, Parle, the leading Mumbai-based confectionery and biscuit maker, envisioned ‘Rola Cola’ — a packet of 10 ‘Solid Cola’ candies sold at just Rs 2.
“The brand was targeted more towards youngsters, but it was also a favourite among [even younger] kids,” Krishna Rao, Senior Category Head – Marketing, Parle Products Private Limited, tells ThePrint.
“The idea was to offer an option to the soft-drink lover to buy Rola Cola for Rs 2 instead of spending Rs 10 on a bottle of Cola every time. Cola lovers were mostly youngsters in the late 70s and early 80s. We were happy that the product was taken up well by the kids as well,” she adds.
With a fistful of pocket money to spare and the ease of stashing a secret roll of Rola Cola to eat on-the-go, the candy generation couldn’t have been happier with this hybrid hit of hedonism.
The Poppins and Coca-Cola generation came together with Rola Cola
Parle, the producer of the beloved Parle-G, had some experience in the field. Products like Kismi Bar, Poppins and Mango Bite were already in the market and perhaps no other company was better poised to capitalise on the sugar rush.
Interestingly, Rola Cola wasn’t just a callback to the experience of drinking Coke and Pepsi, but also identified the merit of selling nostalgia. Poppins, the pellet-like toffees that had been around since the 1950s, had already primed the taste buds of entire generations towards candy. Rola Cola was the intelligent bringing together of this ‘Coca-Cola’ and Poppins generations.
“Old memories always induce nostalgia. Parle cashed in on nation’s craze for Coca-Cola and the nostalgic value of brand Poppins. It devised Rola Cola – a cross of both – the taste of Coca-Cola in the form of Poppins,” says ad-veteran Prahlad Kakkar.
However, the brand couldn’t survive amidst strong competition in the confectionery market and global names surging in.
Till 2004, there were several unorganised players in the field of candy, but soon, consolidation started taking place. Parry`s Confectionery, part of the Chennai-based Murugappa group, was bought over by Korea’s leading brand, Lotte India.
In June 2006, Godrej Foods & Beverages Limited acquired Nutrine Confectionery Company, the maker of Maha Lacto.
Following these acquisitions, Indian consumers got several other candy options with new shapes, textures and flavours. The market for Rola Cola declined and in 2006, the company was “not able to get critical volume”.
“The brand was doing quite well until 2006. But when we re-evaluated our growth plans, the volumes were not justified and we decided to discontinue the product,” says Rao.
While the product remained available in international markets like Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and a few Middle Eastern countries — Indians had to make do without their favourite soft drink candy roll. But then, no one had considered the power of social media.
Twitter storm brought Rola Cola back
After 13 years, Rola Cola is finally back, courtesy a tweet from a Kerala-based fan who requested the company to re-launch his favourite candy.
On 14 February, Siddharth Sai’s tweet to Parle Products started trending on social media networks with the hashtag #BringBackRolaCola.
Dear PARLE. Bring this back pic.twitter.com/Oo792U3EJM
— Sai (@ssaig) February 13, 2019
Parle replied to the tweet saying, “If all you need is Rola Cola, then all we need is 10K retweets.”
— Parle Products (@ParleFamily) February 17, 2019
Soon, the tweet went viral and was retweeted more than 10,000 times. The company realised the profit in giving in to nostalgia and announced the return of Rola Cola.
— Parle Products (@ParleFamily) October 1, 2019
Rola Cola isn’t the only brand to be revived under the weight of collective nostalgia. “Mahindra Group brought back its iconic motorcycle Jawa last year; Campa Cola is keen on a return to take on Pepsi and Coca-Cola; and Hindustan Unilever’s Liril has attempted many relaunches,” Venkata Susmita Biswas reported in the Financial Express.
Rola Cola 2.0
A bold new logo, red wrappers and a price of Rs 5 for a pack of 12 pellets — this is Rola Cola’s new avatar.
Parle began production on September 12 this year, even amid fears that a slump in demand and high GST rates is gradually killing the business of Parle-G biscuits.
Fortunately, the company seems to have learnt from the market, and is changing its USP to appeal to modern children who have moved away from hard-boiled candies to chocolates.
Having officially re-launched just a few days ago, the company claims that it has already booked orders worth 40 tonnes, in the last two weeks. Just the welcome back party everyone’s favourite candy deserves.