50 years of Kofola: a Czech retro soft-drink enjoys second wave of success

Originally a communist version of popular Western drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the Czech product Kofola is celebrating 50 years of existence this year. When the communist regime fell in 1989 and foreign brands entered the market, there was less demand for this domestic soft drink. However, in recent years Kofola has been enjoying renewed popularity. Sarah Borufka has more.

Across the Czech Republic, many pubs have more than just beer on draft. Some also pull glasses of the country’s answer to caffeinated soft drinks like Pepsi: Kofola. Martin Klofanda is the company’s spokesman.

“Our flagship product is draft Kofola, which uses more or less the same technology as draft beer. It comes from a 50-litre keg, it’s served directly from the draft pipe, and it’s served in a glass. There are certain parameters for storage and temperature, and it should have some head. And it’s very popular with athletic types, who like to drink it in a beer garden after exercising, and of course drivers.”

The beverage was originally created in 1960, as a way to use surplus caffeine left over from coffee roasting. In the last 50 years, Kofola has gone through many ups and downs, says Martin Klofanda.

“If I take a look at the product’s history, the most successful years were certainly the Seventies, when its production and expansion were massive. In the Eighties it was still successful, but at the end of the decade, with the Velvet Revolution, Kofola went through a downturn in sales. It was mostly because people were very interested in foreign products, and they forgot about Kofola.”

But in recent years Kofola has become one of several Czech retro brands that have seen something of a comeback. In 2002, the company Santa nápoje bought the trademark for 220 million Czech crowns, and with the help of strong advertising initiated a revival of the brand.

Some say that if you like Coca-Cola, you won’t like Kofola, and vice versa. And the Czech equivalent does differ in many key ways from its Western counterparts, says Martin Klofanda.

Martin Klofanda
“The difference was and is mainly that Kofola, then and now, didn’t contain phosphoric acid. It contains less sugar and caffeine; it has an herbal base and contains extracts from some 14 natural ingredients. And so it has its own typical taste, which is different from the products of its mainstream competitors.”

And what does the future hold for Kofola? Martin Klofanda says that the company is looking to expand to neighboring countries such as Austria and Germany, and that demand for the soft-drink has come from as far as China.