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Monday, June 14, 2021

Opinion: Qatar’s Ramadan love affair with Vimto, explained

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Vimto
Vimto

As the end of Ramadan draws near, it’s likely that sales of a seasonal favorite will soon drop off.

Before everyone forgets about Vimto until next year, Dr. Justin Thomas, associate professor of psychology at Zayed University in the UAE, takes a moment to explain Qatar’s love affair with the carbonated British beverage.

The color purple has a special status in Qatar. For one, Qatari maroon, a close cousin of purple, makes up about two-thirds of the nation’s flag.

Furthermore, in ancient times, more than three millenia ago, Qatar (Al Khor Islands) was fabled for its production of purple dye. More recently, another purple has also risen to prominence, taking the form of a beverage known as Vimto.

But how has a maroon-colored beverage, born in Britain’s industrial north (Manchester) more than a century ago, managed to become a regular iftar A-lister in households across Qatar, and pretty much most everywhere else in the Arab world?

Early infiltration into the local beverages market, savvy promotional tactics and the drink’s relationship with prohibition all play a role.

Ramadan sales

Vimto’s seasonal popularity in Qatar is palpable, confirmed by even a cursory glance at online search statistics.

Google trends chart
Google trends chart

Entering the term Vimto into Google trends and running a report for Qatar or any other Gulf nation reveals a huge annual Ramadan spike. After Ramadan, the term’s search volume drops back to a flat line, reflecting the beverage’s return to relative online obscurity.

Similarly, sales data routinely confirm Vimto’s Ramadan popularity.

In 2011, the UK soft drinks group Nichols, Vimto’s makers, posted a 39 percent rise in profits, a hike they attributed to a surge in shipments to the Middle East in the run-up to Ramadan.

Vimto
Vimto

Other business reports suggest that more than half of Vimto’s annual sales are made during the Ramadan period.

Vimto’s seasonal popularity is clearly attested by its in-store ubiquity.

You would be challenged to find any supermarket in the Gulf that has not given Vimto a prominent placement in the run-up to Ramadan. My local supermarket has erected its own monument to Vimto in the form of a Vimto Tower, or Burj Al Banafsajee (purple tower).

This structure, a magnificent feat of retail engineering, is impossible to miss; a 2m edifice of Vimto bottles arrests the attention of every shopper entering the store. Such intense and prominent placement is typically reserved for new products. But Vimto, an old favorite, gets special treatment during the holy month.

History

The drink first arrived on the Arabian peninsula in 1928, when Abdulla Aujan & Brothers, Saudi commodity traders, expanded into beverages and acquired the exclusive rights to import and distribute Vimto.

The fact that the drink has been in the region for so long perhaps adds to its wide-scale acceptance. Vimto, after all, is not one of those brands that only arrived in pursuit of oil wealth. The drink was well established at least a decade before the exploitation of oil began.

Although not a newcomer, Vimto is still unmistakably foreign. For one thing, the Arabic alphabet has no letter V. But perhaps this adds to the beverage’s cachet, making it obviously foreign and thereby special, exotic and appealing.

Another factor in Vimto’s regional success may stem from the beverage’s roots in the temperance movement.

Alcohol alternative

Temperance was a popular social movement advocating restrictions on and in some cases the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Vimto was initially concocted as a healthy alternative to liquor.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And back in 1908, when it was first served in the UK’s temperance bars, it was known as Vim Tonic, accentuating its purported health properties. Vimto’s early association with the temperance movement and its health-promoting claims probably boosted the drink’s appeal in a region where the consumption of alcohol is prohibited.

Vimto’s regional popularity must also, to a large extent, be attributed to the power of advertising. Messages and images have been skillfully crafted to shape and influence consumer behaviors.

I am against the commercialization of religious occasions. But Vimto, with its temperance roots, deserves its annual moment in the sun.

Given Vimto’s current market dominance, it is hard to see how any other beverage could displace it as the drink king of the iftar table.

Thoughts?

14 COMMENTS

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Because Traffic
Because Traffic
5 years ago

Why does this article make it look like it’s only special in Qatar?

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas
5 years ago

“Entering the term Vimto into Google trends and running a report for Qatar or any other Gulf nation reveals a huge annual Ramadan spike”

Again, Because of Traffic
Again, Because of Traffic
5 years ago
Reply to  Justin Thomas

“Qatar’s” Ramadan love affair with Vimto, explained

Michael L
Michael L
5 years ago

Surely you realise you live in the world capital of ‘special’ ?

Misha
Misha
5 years ago

Well it is Doha News so content usually focuses on Qatar, but the article doesn’t make it seem like it is special to Qatar. It says it is popular in the rest of the Arab world and found in almost every supermarket in the Gulf. Just because the article attempts to explain it’s popularity in Qatar, doesn’t mean it is implying that Vimto is only a special tradition to Qatar.

Doc
Doc
5 years ago

Tastes great with Vodka and soda mixed with it.

Joe
Joe
5 years ago
Reply to  Doc

This article is a LOAD of B U L L ….its a HISTORY of how the drink arrived here and does NOT explain its popularity with ANY SCIENTIFIC date…just one mans opinion !!

zoeval
zoeval
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Yes, that’s why it’s an opinion piece

Jen
Jen
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Does people liking to drink Vimto during Ramadan have to have a scientific basis? It,s social and cultural and maybe many people, wonder why it is sold so prolifically during this season. Not everything has to have a scientific reason behind it surely?

Jeeth John
Jeeth John
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe

it was a waste of time reading the article…no relation as such between the title and the content…

salar
salar
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe

I agree with you

Badass
Badass
5 years ago

Promotion!!!!

Bornrich
Bornrich
5 years ago

Suitable Vimto attire.

fullmoon07
fullmoon07
5 years ago

Vimto: a good way to get sugar levels up and get diabetic. Clap clap!

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