In the first part of a six-part VO! series on the history of Gujarat’s top brands, we feature Rasna:
Launched in 1978, Rasna is among the most iconic brands to come out of Gujarat. Through the 80 and 90s, the brand grew to become one of the most popular Indian consumer products ever. Backed by a print and television advertising campaign featuring the tag-line ‘I Love You Rasna,’ the soft drink concentrate was sold by a network of grocers, chemists, and general stores covering every corner of India.
In the 45 years of its existence, the brand has seen tumultuous times. Rasna was in the news in September last year, when a transporter filed an insolvency application before the National Company Law Tribunal against it for non-payment of dues amounting to Rs 71 lakh. When we asked Rasna chairman Piruz Khambatta about the state of the company today, this is what he had to say: “Any long journey has to be both sweet and sour. I am lucky our journey has been more sweet than sour.”
The original Rasna soft drink concentrate was invented by the late Areez Khambatta (1937-2022), a chemistry graduate from Gujarat University. The Khambattas have long been pillars of the Parsi community and Areez himself was a trustee of the Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat. His father was in the business of manufacturing soda, with a factory in Ahmedabad’s Asarwa area, and this is where the young Areez first began working at making flavours for the soft drink industry. In 1972, he went to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to do a diploma in flavour technology. Six years later, at the age of 41, he came up with the innovative idea of Rasna.
A box of Rasna consists of two packets, a liquid and a powder, which, when mixed with a litre of water and 750 gms of sugar, produces two bottles of soft drink concentrate. Available in over a dozen flavours, Rasna was the Maggi of soft drinks when it was launched. It took two minutes to make and even children, the brand’s prime target customer, would have fun making it.
Areez Khambatta was a master of flavour technology and personally supervised production, to ensure his recipes were strictly adhered to. As the brand grew, manufacturing was shifted from Asarwa to a larger unit in Kalol. Focused on manufacturing, he had a tie-up with Voltas to handle the distribution and marketing side of the business. Later, marketing was headed by his son Piruz, who is now the Chairman of the company.
Rasna was a product ideally suited for its times. For one thing, it tasted much better than the bottled squashes and syrups that ruled the home beverage market at that time. In the 80s, plastic bottles had still not made an appearance in India and carbonated soft drinks were only available in glass bottles. Stocking Coca Cola at home meant paying a deposit to the retailer and lugging a crate. It wasn’t very convenient and the little Rasna packet was a much better alternative.
Things changed in the 1990s with the entry of the PET bottle, a technological disruption that severely impacted Rasna. Rasna’s heydays were over when PET bottles made it easy to stock aerated beverages at home. Then came the Tetra Pak fruit juices, a product category that further cut into Rasna’s market.
In the late 1990s, the company tried to push back, with the launch of its own aerated soft drink. Branded Oranjolt, it was a fizzy orange juice, Rasna’s first brand extension. Tested in Ahmedabad in 1999, Oranjolt failed to make the cut and was eventually abandoned. But Rasna still had an advantage over the global soft drink majors in terms of the range it could offer and it came up with many innovations, such as the Rasna International, a range of flavours targeted at adults.
The thing about brands, especially universally popular ones like Rasna, is that they have a life of their own, transcending the product they were originally associated with. Over the years, the Khambattas have leveraged the brand name to include a wide range of products. In the late 1990s, the Rasna range of spreads and boiled sweets was launched, with the familiar flavours associated with the soft drink concentrate. Today, the Rasna website displays products like powdered drink concentrates, syrups, squashes, fizzy drinks, iced tea powder, honey. And of course, there is the original soft drink concentrate, now a niche product, which Rasna fans might still buy for old times’ sake.
Gujarat’s Iconic Brands: VO! Presents a six-part Series : Also Read