The good old sherbet, a traditional Middle Eastern drink, has been a part of the South Asian Subcontinent since before the turn of the twentieth century.
Prepared with rose hips, cornelian cherries, rose or liquorice and a variety of spices, it is a household item. More often than not, sherbet is associated with a sweet red coloured drink, sold under brand names such as Hamdard’s Rooh Afza or Qarshi’s Jam-e-Shirin.
During Ramazan, the sales of Rooh Afza quadruple, as compared to the rest of the year. Be it marketing strategy or an inherited staple dietary requirement in Pakistan, The Express Tribune ventured to pinpoint how and why this drink became associated with Ramazan.
Rooh Afza has been in production since 1906, and is touted by Hamdard Pakistan to be one of their most prized products.
Shehreyar Pasha, who has been working with Hamdard for over six years now, said, “Rooh Afza has become popular over generations. We enforce quality control and provide the masses with a refreshing drink that is affordable.”
From 5-Star hotels to local roadside restaurants, Rooh Afza vessels are placed next to water containers on tables at iftar time.
Laiq Ahmed Khan, an elderly person who runs a bookstore, said, “It is the most refreshing drink in the market and revitalises the body after a long day of fasting.”
Saeed Ahmed, a waiter, said after drinking Rooh Afza, his fast feels complete. “I get inner peace after having this drink. In our family, we consume over four bottles during Ramazan.”
(Read: Ramazan’s here, but keep the extra weight far away)
Hamdard has marketed its product so well that despite being high in sugar, people believe it to be a healthier option than other drinks during Ramazan.
A salesperson at G.N. Store in Kohsar Market said they sell five times as much Rooh Afza during Ramazan than they do at any other time of the year. Even Tesco, an international chain, stocks the drink in their primary aisles during this month because of its demand amongst their customers from this region.
This psychological association with the sherbet and Ramazan has been passed down through generations. “It is artificial yet refreshing and touches the soul,” said Street 1 Café General Manager Amjad Abbasi, “we use almost three bottles a day just for our staff.”
The drink has become a prime example of successful marketing. It’s association with Ramazan is unmistakable, because regardless of your social or economic background, Rooh Afza is inevitably one of the most desired beverage items during the month.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2011.