This is the final instalment of an eight-part special feature, where we look back at some of the major stories of 2013 through the eyes of those who covered them.
The story: Bleeding green: Pakola fizzles out as capacity tax introduced.
The story behind the story
It was the evening of July 30. Shifts were coming to an end and most of the staff had wrapped up their work. I was busy working on my usual assignments, completely oblivious to what was happening on social media.
That was when Sohail Khattak, a colleague from the city pages, alerted me to some tweets suggesting that the production of Pakola – the fizzy, green drink we all grew up with - was coming to an end.
Unofficial reports were streaming in and people on social media were already mourning the demise of their favourite drink. It initially appeared that Mehran Bottlers, who manufacture and distribute Pakola in Karachi, had completely shut down production. Perhaps the company was in financial distress and had succumbed to competition from multi-nationals, many people conjectured. The reality turned out to be slightly different.
I knew fans of Pakola would want to know more and took it upon myself to unearth the real story and deliver it to readers as soon as possible.
But I had never covered the beverages industry before and had no contacts for the story. So I did what a few other journalists were doing: I found the company’s contact information on their website and called the number. The person on the other side was a marketing manager who said the company had stopped sale of Pakola in bottles but maintained that the drink would be continued to be sold in cans – a real sigh of relief for Pakola fans! The sale of bottles was stopped because of a capacity tax on aerated water drinks.
I then traced contact information for Zeeshan Habib, the CEO of Mehran Bottlers, and sent him a message. He never replied.
The story, which finally appeared in The Express Tribune on August 1 (with the phrase ‘bleeding green’ aptly put into the headline), created quite a stir. Online, readers left comments calling Pakola a ‘national treasure’ and some even claimed it was ‘one of the best things about this country.’
And that was only scratching the surface.
Soon, more revelations poured in. People from the industry who had once been skeptical about divulging information now approached us to share their side of the story. It turned out that Pakola was not the only victim of the capacity tax and many other firms from Amrat Cola to Murree Brewery were also affected by it.
In the subsequent weeks, we did another report on the industry that helped bring out more details about the Pakola brand. For instance, it emerged that there was a rivalry between different bottlers — a rivalry that would do little good for the future of the green drink.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2014.
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