December 30, 2012
Energy Drinks Take Afghanistan By Storm
What do a young woman roaring across the desert on a flashy motorbike, a sweaty construction worker, and a muscle man pulling a semi-truck have in common?
High energy -- the kind that, if the blaring advertisements bombarding Afghans can be believed, can only come from drinking caffeine-rich, glucose-heavy drinks with names like Effect, Gangster, and Boom Boom.
As the commercial (see below) featuring our three high-octane heroes suggests, "There is no effect without Effect." But this television advertisement is just one of dozens making the hard sell on television, billboards, and posters across Afghanistan.
Energy drinks are sold everywhere in modern Afghanistan -- from street carts to corner shops to the finest restaurants. Even hard-line Taliban militants have been known to enjoy one of the many available concoctions to quench their thirst on the battlefield.
But energy drinks are definitely rattling some nerves, leading to calls for the drinks to be banned outright.
Although many are certified as "Islamic-approved," they have come under fire from religious figures. Because of their stimulant properties, some liken them to alcoholic drinks, which are "haram," or forbidden under Islam.
Others have raised eyebrows over the quality of some of the drinks being imported and the negative effects they could have on Afghans' health.
Sales Booming, But At What Price?
In Afghanistan, there is little government regulation and no national standards for imported drinks, food, or medicines. That has meant the Afghan market has been flooded by outdated, low-quality energy drinks deemed unfit for sale in other countries.
Abdullah, an assistant shopkeeper, says Afghan distributors for foreign beverage companies sell expired products for discounted prices and that some shopkeepers readily buy the inferior products and sell them for a quick profit.
"Some of the drinks are past their expiry dates or have gone bad. They pose a health risk to people and shouldn't be sold. Only those that are legal, with expiry dates, and in good condition should be sold," he says. "The Public Health Ministry must regulate the market and take the necessary steps to stop this."
Despite the risks and controversy, business appears to be booming. Habib Rahman, a shopkeeper in Kabul, says energy drinks are outselling popular soft drinks such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
"Most Afghans like energy drinks. They think it gives them energy and can get rid of tiredness," Rahman says. "It mostly started with young employed Afghans in urban areas buying the drinks, but now it has spread to all sectors of society."
Overall sales statistics are unavailable, but more than two dozen brands have arrived on the market, catering to a broad spectrum of consumers.
Red Bull, the Austrian-made drink, costs about $1.50 and is popular among young, urban consumers, while the Thai-made Carabao, which costs half that amount, is favored among the working class.
And well aware that Afghanistan is a deeply patriarchal society, some foreign brands have made their energy drinks gender-specific. That means men can take on a Big Bear -- marketed "for men only" -- while women can sip a high-energy Hot Bird.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report
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