x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

An unquenchable thirst for expansion

Vimto began its life as a medicine in 1912 - but it took off as a beverage.

The founder of Vimto, John Noel Nichols, was born on December 28, 1883, in Blackburn, Lancashire in the north-west of England, according to the company's website.

After working as a stockbroker's clerk and a soap factory manager, in 1908 Nichols set up his small wholesale druggist and herbalist business in Manchester and in 1912 Vimto was registered - as a trademark in the medicines class.

However, sanity returned the following year when the popular drink was registered as a beverage for human use, not alcoholic, not aerated and not medicated.

But by 1919, a degree of oddness returned when Vimto was also registered in the "minerals and aerated water" class. The Nichols company did not bottle or carbonate the product until much later.

That same year the trademark was first registered abroad - in British Guiana, now Guyana, and the company's international division began: the company was now describing itself as a "wholesale export druggist".

In less than a decade Vimto hit the Middle East.

Many Indian clerks fluent in Arabic and English found employment in the region at that time. In particular, one family firm Abdulla Aujan & Brothers were introduced to Vimto by an Indian employee and by 1928 large quantities of cordial were being exported to AA&B for distribution. By 1930, Vimto was available in more than 30 countries, from Peru to Albania to Liberia. In the Middle East, the popularity of Vimto was spreading through Aujan's network of trading branches into the Arab States including Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Vimto also became increasingly popular in the Muslim areas of the Indian subcontinent that became known as Pakistan.

By 1957 the cordial was being shipped from the Vimto factory in Salford to the Middle East packed in wooden crates and housed in the bulkheads of ships.

They were offloaded in Bahrain and transported around the Arabian Gulf in dhows.

By the 1960s pallets of Vimto in cardboard boxes were being shipped directly to many new ports. The cordial in the region was - and remains - double strength compared with the UK version to cut down on transport costs.

In 1961, the company JN Nichols (Vimto) was listed on the Manchester stock exchange.

Fourteen years later, Solent Canners negotiated a licence from Nichols to produce canned carbonated Vimto for sale to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and then Nichols bought Solent Canners.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was not until 1991 that Vimto was first exported closer to home to France, Portugal and Spain. But the company's apparent wanderlust was back by 2002 when Pilivi in Mozambique launched fizzy Vimto. Exports also grew in Africa with Angola, Gabon and Ivory Coast importing and distributing Vimto cans.

Just two years later, Vimto was launched into the Punjab region of Pakistan, followed in September in the Sindh region and then on into India.

Vimto was no slouch when it came to the giant and rapidly growing Chinese market and in 2009 ventured into the country with a range of fruit drinks launched in Shanghai.

It seems the company can do no wrong and is as healthy today as when it was first marketed as a medicine. Last year's interim results for the six months to the end of June showed revenues of £55.3 million (Dh325.8m), up from £50.4m in 2011.

It seems Vimto is set to fizz for some time yet.


* The National staff