Coca-Cola and Pepsi rival Palestine Drinks hits multimillion sales ahead of global push

Swedish-founded company plans production centre in the Middle East

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A Palestinian-Swedish drinks maker has seen its alternative to Coca-Cola and Pepsi take off massively as consumers boycott the US brands over perceived ties to Israel.

Palestine Drinks told The National it is struggling to keep up with demand as some restaurants in Europe shun American-owned market leaders. Sales have reached around four million cans in just under two months.

Hussein, Mohammed and Ahmad Hassoun, brothers of Palestinian descent and successful businessmen in Malmo, decided six months ago to create an alternative to Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

Their brand has quickly garnered millions of social media hits and attracted interest from companies worldwide looking to stock its cola.

In less than two months of trading, orders have been coming in by the millions. The only thing holding us back is the production
Mohamed Kiswani, Safad Food

The distinctive cans feature historic symbols of Palestine, such as olive branches and a Palestinian keffiyeh design, and the words “liberty for everyone” underlining the founders' message that regardless of ethnicity and religion, everybody has the right to freedom.

The Hassoun brothers aim to raise awareness about Palestine, and support charities helping people affected by the conflict in Gaza and the West Bank.

“We've devised a plan aimed at aiding our fellow Palestinians, with a special focus on the children of Gaza,” said Hussein Hassoun, in Arabic on social media.

“Our initiative involves a charity organisation run by two dedicated lawyers. Their mission is to channel funds directly to the people of Palestine, particularly those in Gaza.”

The Hassoun family plans to establish the Safad Foundation in Sweden, where funds raised through the company will be collated and donated to projects in Palestine.

The foundation and Palestine Drinks' parent company, Safad Food, are named after the town north of Lake Tiberias in the Galilee (in what was Palestine) that the Hassouns' grandfather and uncles fled in 1948.

They were expelled to Lebanon and from there they moved to Sweden.

The three brothers, born and raised in Sweden, established a successful car accessories business about 25 years ago, and later moved into property.

“They have been working with cars, tyres and rims and everything to do with cars and accessories for cars,” Mohamed Kiswani, communications director for Safad Food, told The National.

“They did very well and then they started investing in real estate and made a lot of money.”

No alternative

Palestine Drinks was the brothers' first foray into the drinks business and was chosen because “they wanted to start producing something that had a lot of profit”.

“The initiative was taken by Hussein, the eldest brother. He went to see restaurants and stores and saw a lot of places that didn't have any alternatives for the major brands, Pepsi and Coca-Cola,” said Mr Kiswani, speaking on behalf of the brothers.

“A lot of restaurants in Sweden and Europe didn't want to sell those brands.”

The US drinks companies are among several global brands being boycotted by consumers over their business conducted with Israel and its occupying settlements.

After Israel's war on Gaza began in October, several smaller, local brands experienced an increase in sales in the Middle East.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), a pro-Palestine human rights group launched in 2005, has criticised Coca-Cola for operating a factory in Israel's illegal settlement of Atarot in the occupied West Bank.

In November, Turkey's parliament removed Coca-Cola products from its restaurants over its alleged support for Israel, Reuters reported.

In 2018, BDS called for a boycott of Pepsi following its acquisition of SodaStream, an Israeli-based soft drinks manufacturer.

In Lebanon, alternatives Jalloul and Zee Cola are proving more popular with locals, while Spiro Spathis has seen a 350 per cent spike in sales in Egypt, local media reported.

In Bangladesh, Akij Food and Beverage pledged to donate a portion of each Mojo cola product sold to a Palestine fund. Sales surged by 140 per cent, increasing its soft drinks market share by six per cent, according to local media reports. It has also raised nearly $150,000.

Palestine Drinks, which currently only produces cola, hopes to have its range of products “available at every restaurant, and every supermarket or convenience store in all of Europe”.

“It’s one of the most sold products and one of the easiest ones to produce,” said Mr Kiswani.

“We are working on a cola sugar-free product and we also have in the pipeline orange, lemon and energy drinks.”

The brothers, who have invested just under $50,000 in their operation, sought advice from a consultant in Europe with vast experience in the drinks industry.

“We are growing every day, with new expertise and new people coming in, helping out with the production engineering and the logistics and the marketing and everything,” Mr Kiswani said.

“In less than two months of trading, orders have been coming in by the millions. Sales have been very good. The only thing holding us back is the production.”

Sales of four million in two months are a far cry from US soda giant Coca-Cola, which sells more than 1.9 billion servings of its drinks daily. Pepsico's products, which include both food and drinks, generate estimated sales of more than one billion a day.

Berlin-based brand Holy, which has customers in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland, sold more than 10 million soft drinks between its launch in 2020 and August last year.

Interest in Palestine Drinks is worldwide, with 100 companies interested in becoming distributors in Australia, Asia, Canada, the US, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

“We are planning to extend outside of Europe, but it might take a couple of months,” Mr Kiswani said.

“Overseas, the first step will be the US and Canadian markets.”

Demand from the Middle East have been strong but rolling out Palestine Drinks in the region has faced obstacles.

“We have had more than 10 companies contact us from the UAE wanting to be distributors and also help with production,” he said.

“We are working on that (Middle East) project. It’s a little bit difficult because we have to make the can in Arabic and we have to make the regulations in Arabic, and all the various details, but let's say three to four months hopefully.”

Mr Kiswani said Palestine Drinks has plans to establish a centre in the region.

“As we expand, we understand that we need to have local production so when we come to the Middle East, we want to have production in the Middle East,” he said.

“When we start selling in America, we want production in America. The long-term plan is to have production in the countries [where] we are selling.”

All profits from Palestine Drinks will go to charities working in Gaza and the West Bank through Safad Foundation, which will be registered with Swedish authorities.

“We have started talking to organisations that have a local presence in the West Bank and Gaza to work with them initially before we have our own organisation.

“Our long-term goal is to have our own organisation with Safad Foundation with people on the ground so we can control the entire chain, to know that our donations and the projects that we donate [to] are as they should be.”

Grassroots origin

While Palestine Drinks has attracted a global audience, several businesses in the UAE have supported the cause through local charities.

The website Palestine.me, started by brother and sister Wadi and Dana Dahdal in September, has had soaring interest.

It was started as “a hub for everything Palestine”, sharing information and history about the country, and developed into a support for artists in Palestine who can sell their goods globally through the website.

Neither sibling has a background in retail or web development – Wadi is an engineer and Dana works in nutrition and skincare – but the idea for the website and to raise awareness was sparked by the solidarity murals they saw in Belfast during a family trip to Northern Ireland last summer.

“We come from Palestinian origins,” Dana Dahdal said. “My dad was born in Palestine in 1947 and he was exiled with his family in 1948 when he was just 11 months old.

“He ended up in UAE in the late '60s and we were born and raised here in Abu Dhabi. We’ve always had a deep connection to our homeland.

“We try to collaborate with other Palestinian crafters and artisans, whether here locally or preferably from Palestine,” she said.

“There are several, very authentic, traditional crafts in Palestine, and unfortunately, with the current situation and even before October, they have struggled to maintain these crafts.”

One of those is a family of three brothers who have inherited a 100-year-old workshop in Bethlehem that produces products carved from olive wood.

“By listing their products on Palestine.me, we aim to maintain this craft and thus keep the brothers from leaving Palestine in search of other work abroad,” Ms Dahdal said.

She said the business regularly donates to Emirates Red Crescent, Al Jalila Foundation and Little Wings in Dubai, who make prosthetics for children in Palestine.

There are plans to launch some food-related products soon, including olive oil and other spices and herbs from a family-owned business in Palestine, Ms Dahdal said.

Activeist, a Palestinian female-owned clothing business, launched a range of bags and a T-shirt that supported Emirates Red Crescent's efforts in Palestine through a percentage of sales.

Dania Istaitie, founder and chief executive, said the reaction to the Palestinian products has been “phenomenal” and there are plans to launch new collections and collaborations soon.

“Our tote bags, in particular, gained viral attention after being featured on the HypeBeast website, leading to global shipping and widespread popularity,” she said.

They will continue to participate in Palestinian events and contribute to charities including the Little Wings Foundation.

Updated: May 12, 2024, 5:30 PM