Johnny Lindley, the man behind the flavor of Peru

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What was it that your father used to say?
We are all the same; we must all respect each other. That was his motto and everyone followed it. One must never abuse power.  If you respect others, you will be respected in return.

Do you take criticism?
All day, ever day. It is good to talk things over. Mistakes teach you to listen.

Was it a mistake to sell your shares to Coca-Cola?
That is a misinterpretation that was manipulated at someone else’s interest. This is a strategic alliance; We joined the world’s number one soda producer and no one had ever achieved this before. Inca Kola was our inherited right and we thought, who will secure its well-being better than Coca-Cola? It is, after all the number one drink in the world. We made it. The king of the world asked us to be partners and that has not been repeated.

So you have 50% and the other 50% belongs to Coca-Cola…
No, they have around 40% and we have over 50%; the rest belongs to other family members and companies.

The negotiation went on for three years.
Yes, and they accepted our approaches. To ease our minds, we interviewed every Peruvian we could to see what they thought of the alliance. They thought we deserved it.

"The flavor of Peru," reads the roadside ad.
Some vintage publicity from Inca Kola. (Photo: ArkivPeru.com)

Have you given your secret formula to Coca-Cola?
Exactly. In what better hands could it be? We had to think about the future. Coca-Cola is 125 years old and it is still going strong. We turn 75 this year, its was the best move we could make. It was like putting our most valuable asset in the safest hands in the world. We fought well from the start and all that has come after us has been imitations. Coca-Cola as well as Inca Kola have been imitated numerous times.

Are you talking about the Añaños?
I am not talking about anyone. At one point Inca Kola had 18 imitations and after this alliance we have overcome everything that came our way. The war of the sodas is worldwide now, but everything new that comes out is just an imitation.

Do the Añaños [owners of the beverage group Aje]worry you?
They must be happy with what they have done; there is merit in having tried to sell outside the country and having grown. In our case, Inca Kola is number one in Peru and none other has ever beaten us; it is our pride.

Tell me the secret…
The secret is that the taste is unidentifiable, it is yellow for Peru’s gold but the taste cannot be deciphered. If you like it or not, that’s a different issue.

So you will not give me the recipe.
The important thing is that you like it and if you do, then there’s your recipe.

Why couldn’t Coca-Cola top Inca Kola?
We learned from them to manage the market, we have grown with time and we cannot deny that. Coca Cola was our teacher. The other factor was our flavor. Our brand building through publicity had a great impact.

Who came up with the phrase “Bebida de sabor nacional” (the drink with national flavor)?
It was a small group who developed it…

Come one, don’t be humble. Tell me how it happened…
We have always worked together; I was thinking how to coin a phrase. The one that marked me for life was: “Inka Cola solo hay una y no se parece a ninguna” (“There is only one Inca Kola and it is like no other”). That happened. Once it had a stronger image, we started playing with “national flavor” because this drink goes with any meal.

If we went for lunch right now, what would we have?
We would have to take my nurse, ha ha ha. Let me tell you a story about lunches. When we first started, we went to restaurants, there was about twelve of us and we always ordered the best dishes on the menu. Then we ordered Inca Kola and if they didn’t have it, then we would leave and shortly after that, we would have one of our salesmen come to the restaurant and offer them our drink and, of course, they would buy it. We did that many times, it was our way of making demand grow. Waiters loved us…

How did you manage to survive? Many families tear at each other’s eyes for money…
God willing, we come this far with our family still close together and my father’s motto: Do things right, be good and love each other always. These are basic principles that we follow. It is in our blood and our workers are our family.

And what do you drink now: regular Inca Kola or diet?
I never have any kind of diet drink but when we came up with our own, I tried it. I remember Gastón telling me that Inca Kola diet was a real diet because the flavor has not changed. It took us five years to get it right. We were in rush, we didn’t want it to have that aftertaste that other light drinks have.

So you have no trouble in taking your time to get what you want.
It is just that one must feel that things are right before taking a risk. It is not good to rush.

Why do you think it is that you managed to win over Peruvians?
 Because we knew how to show that we felt like we were part of the country. During the time of the terrorist attacks, we said Inca Kola was the flavor that brought us together, we gave them courage; when the bad times were over, it was the flavor of joy. When there were imitations, we said Inca Kola was the Peruvian flavor, we always made that clear, we were always proud of our country.

If the second round of elections were between Mercedes Aráoz and Keiko Fujimori, who would you vote for?
First I have to make it to the elections.

This interview will be read by millions of Peruvians who have tried your drink, do you have anything to say to them?
I just want to say that we are in a great country and that we have to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way. Our main duty is that Peru moves forward.

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