Coca-Cola—the refreshing fizzy drink that makes a presence at big athletic events across the globe, the soft drink that almost every restaurant has in their drink menu, and the special carbonated drink that children look forward to drinking at their birthday party. This carbonated drink is so wide spread that it is hard to imagine life without it, but there are countries where Coca-Cola is not sold as of today.
As of August 2022, There Are Three Countries Where Coca-Cola Is Not Sold
North Korea, Cuba, and Russia are the three countries where Coca-Cola does not operate officially as of August 2022. Before the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, North Korea and Cuba were the no-Coca-Cola duo.
However, social media pressure mounted against multinational companies that were in operation in Russia in the wake of the war. On 8th March 2022, Coca-Cola announced suspension of its business in Russia. Along with McDonald’s, Pepsi, and many other Western companies, Coca-Cola exited from Russia.
As of August 2022, Coca-Cola is not (officially) available in North Korea, Cuba, and Russia. But why doesn’t Coca-Cola sell its products in these countries?
What Is in Common among Them?
North Korea, Cuba, and now Russia—ethnically somewhat diverse trio—have something in common. They are US-sanctioned countries. In fact, the US has imposed the most severe sanctions on these three countries. Furthermore, North Korea and Cuba are on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism as of July 2022. Amid the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine, US lawmakers urged the Biden administration to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, which is still under discussion (as of 19th July).
Having said that, is Coca-Cola really unavailable in these countries? Dear curious and skeptical readers, let me share what I found.
North Korea | No Diplomatic Relations, No Coca-Cola
The United States has long imposed sanctions on this East Asian Kim dynasty. Since 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea, the US has tightened its sanctions from time to time. In 1988, the US declared North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. In response to its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, the US and other countries such as South Korea and Japan have applied sanctions against North Korea. As of July 2022, North Korea is still under the heaviest sanctions by the US and its alliance. They don’t have diplomatic relations as of today.
The 50-year-long sanctions have isolated North Korea. The economic sanctions against North Korea include a trade embargo. As a result, North Korea is free from some of the mass consumption multinational products including Coca-Cola—at least officially.
According to an AP news article written by Eric Talmadge in 2017, Coca-Cola is sold in upscale grocery stores in Pyongyang. The Coca-Cola bottles bear Chinese labels bottled in China. Some international hotels also offer Coca-Cola from China, where affluent locals, tourists, and business people stay.
Additionally, North Korea has its own Coca-Cola—something that we could call Coca-Cola imitation. A North Korea tour agent in China, Koryo Tours, shared an interesting blog post. According to the blog post, passengers can enjoy North-Korea-made drink that looks and tastes similar to Coca-Cola onboard. The blog describes its taste:
Coke tastes like panda cola from childhood. A cheaper “convenience store” Coca Cola.
Cuba | Resumed Diplomatic Relations But No Coca-Cola
Although the US and Cuba restored their diplomatic relations in 2015, the US continues imposing tough sanctions including commercial embargo on Cuba. The comprehensive set of sanctions on Cuba date back to 1960 after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Several US administrations tightened embargo, making it illegal for US companies to conduct business with Cuba.
Much similar to North Korea, 60-year sanctions isolated this island nation. The country has no sight of the golden arches, green-and-while twin-tailed siren, nor the smiley face of Uncle Colonel. And of course, Coca-Cola is not available—again, at least officially.
Even though Coca-Cola cannot directly refresh Cuba, people in Cuba can easily find the red and white cans and bottles across the city, especially in its capital Havana. From a street cart to a supermarket, Coca-Cola is available. However, they are not directly from the US. Most of them are from Mexico and manufactured in Mexico. These Coca-Colas can be a little bit pricy than other local beverages.
Moreover, Cuba also has its own soft drink like Coca-Cola—Tukola. Los Portales S.A, a joint venue with Nestlé, produce and market this cola in Cuba. How does Tukola taste?
99% just like a Coca-Cola,
said an American tourist.
Russia | Lost Coca-Cola and McDonald’s
Russia joined the no-Coca-Cola club recently as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war. Coca-Cola, just like many other American and European companies, halted business in Russia in May 2022.
Despite historically unfavorable US-Russia relations, The Coca Cola Company had sold its products since 1979. And Russian factories began bottling Coca-Cola in 1987. In 1992, the company started production in Russia. Having only up to 200 employees back then, The Coca Cola Company in Russia expanded its business to have 7,000 employees.
Although Coke has been officially off the shelf after the withdrawal of The Coca Cola Company from Russia, Coca Cola is still available. However, the prices have increased by a whopping 200%.
Now again, the Russian beverage producer Ochakovo has already launched imitations of Coca-Cola and other American soft drinks. Instead of Coca-Cola, people in Russia can now enjoy Cool Cola, Fancy instead of Fanta, and Street instead of Sprite.
Is Coke Available in Other Embargoed Countries?
As of July 2022, North Korea and Cuba are not the only US-embargoed countries. Iran and Syria are also on the list. Then is Coca-Cola available in Iran and Syria? The short answer is “yes.”
In Iran, Coca-Cola is legally available and it is quite popular among Iranians. Despite the sanctions it is legal because The Coca Cola does business in Iran through an Irish subsidiary. Khoshgovar is an Iranian food and beverage company that imports Coke syrup from the subsidiary and sells Coca-Cola in Iran. Additionally, Iran also has its own Cola—Zamzam Cola.
Another embargoed country Syria also sells Coca-Cola legally. The Coca Cola Company legally began selling its products into Syria since 2004. In 2006, they founded CCI Syria, a Coca Cola anchor bottler. CCI Syria produces, distributes, and sells Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola light, Fanta, and Sprite in Syria.
Summing up: Countries without Coca-Cola
As of August 2022, there are three countries where Coca Cola is officially unavailable. They are: North Korea, Cuba, and Russia. The reason behind this is the US embargo that prohibits US companies from doing business with these countries. The Coca Cola Company withdrew from Russia recently, while it has been absent from North Korea and Cuba for more than half a century.
Having said that, Coca-Cola has seeped into these nations. In North Korea, the sparkling drink is available in affluent areas and hotels. In Cuba, it is more widely available, from street vendors to supermarkets. They are imported (or smuggled) from their neighboring countries. They also sell imitations of Coca-Cola that local beverage companies produce locally.
There are several other countries under US embargo as of today: Iran and Syria. However, Coca-Cola is legally available in these countries.