Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The man who taught Iraq to fizz

The iconic Coke bottle and Naim Dangoor are both 100 years old this year. Dangoor set up the first bottling plant in Iraq in 1950, together with his Muslim partner, Ahmed Safwat. (While theirs was a truly harmonious partnership, this article, in a Coca Cola house magazine, omits to mention that Jewish businessmen in Arab countries could then not operate without a Muslim partner. ) Dangoor, who now lives in London, methodically worked out the optimum selling price for his product: 14 fils.
“Soon you will see the bottle which brings enjoyment the world over!”, heralded a series of 1950 Baghdad newspaper ads. Most of the ads featured the famous Coke bottle as a centerpiece to drum up interest and demand while announcing that “Delicious and Refreshing Coca-Cola is on its way to Baghdad.”

100th Celebration for Iraq Bottler
Naim Dangoor (left) and Ahmed Safwat in Nice, France in the 1940s.

Bringing the world-famous Coca-Cola bottles to Iraq proved quite the challenge for Naim Dangoor and Ahmed Safwat, the country’s first Coca-Cola bottlers. They overcame numerous challenges in importing bottling machinery and completing construction on their building near Baghdad’s city center.

The pair was finally able to get their operation off the ground in the summer of 1950. The original contour bottles they filled were embossed with the Coca-Cola script in both Arabic and English and a cap that read: “Bottled in Iraq”. Post-launch newspaper ads declared, “After months of waiting it is with us now!” – an indication that there was indeed quite the delay on the introduction.

Ironically, Naim Dangoor is – like the iconic Coke bottle – a centenarian, born 100 years ago in Baghdad. His son, David, shared some scanned versions of his father’s detailed business plans from the era that he came across while cleaning up. While we know that Coke cost a nickel in the United States for over 70 years, the documents give a glimpse of how the initial retail price of Coke bottles in Iraq was determined.
100th Celebration for Iraq Bottler
Naim Dangoor suggested the price of 14 Fils for a bottle of Coke.

“He was trying to work out what was the optimum price to sell Coca-Cola,” David Dangoor explained to me as we reviewed the charts and graphs his father sketched out sometime around 1950.
While the Coca-Cola head office suggested 20 fils as the retail price, Naim Dangoor concluded that selling at 14 fils would bring much more profit based on his projected revenue forecast estimated prior to launch. Before the days of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Dangoor created intricate charts and graphs to convince The Coca-Cola Company that his proposition was the right approach.

“You can see that he was very methodical about deciding what the price should be,” his son David remarked while sharing hand-drawn analyses of pricing versus costs of goods, advertising, rent, property taxes, wages, coolers, cases, bottles and ingredients.

Perhaps the elder Dangoor was so methodical because of his studies in engineering at London University. In the 1930s, he made the five-day journey from Baghdad to London on his own to enroll in the university at the age of 17. After graduating, he returned to his native Iraq, where he would eventually form Eastern Industries Ltd. with his business partner, Ahmed Safwat, a fellow Iraqi and London University graduate.

100th Celebration for Iraq Bottler
Naim Dangoor celebrates his 100th birthday amongst family and friends.

After a few successful real estate and manufacturing ventures, they decided to apply for the Coke bottling franchise in Iraq. Coca-Cola was relatively new to the region, having been introduced in Egypt in 1946 and Lebanon in the same year as Iraq – 1950. The bottom of each print ad in Iraqi newspapers has a line that notes Eastern Industries Ltd. as authorized bottlers of Coca-Cola. Dangoor remained a Coca-Cola bottler in Iraq beyond the 1950s.

Naim Dangoor, who happens to be Jewish, and Ahmed Safwat, who happened to be Muslim, met at a military training in Iraq, and “they immediately hit it off and decided they had to go into business together,” David recalled.

Naim Dangoor
Naim Dangoor, 2015
As we studied a late 1940s black and white photo of his father and Mr. Safwat, David said, “In my heart, Coca-Cola was that symbol of common harmony. The campaign, ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ was something in practice. It was not just an ad man’s story. Here you had two people from different communities, hand in hand, and here they were working together for something that is a universal symbol today. Coca-Cola was to them a symbol of a new opportunity. I hope that symbol will inspire new common harmony.”

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