Which Soda Company Briefly Owned A Sizable Naval Fleet?
When you think of major soda brands, there’s a very slim chance that you also happen to think of a collection of military vessels. Yet, if we take a trip back through the 20th century and the curiosities of the Cold War, we can find a moment in time where Pepsi—best known as Coca-Cola’s major competitor—owned more warships than most countries outside of the global super powers.
How did Pepsi end up in such a situation? It all started with an exhibition in 1959 when a handful of American companies, accompanied by then Vice President Richard Nixon, paid a visit to Moscow—showcasing American products, including Pepsi, in the process. The visit sparked a love of Pepsi in the Russian people (although they reported that it was an acquired taste they were very unfamiliar with) that lasted for decades.
Because Russian currency was both unstable and restrictions on exporting it from the country meant Pepsi neither wanted, nor could be paid in it, a barter system was put in place. For years, the arrangement was a profitable one: Pepsi imported their cola and the Soviet Union traded vast quantities of vodka to be sold in American markets.
So where do the ships come in? During the Soviet-Afghan war, an American boycott was put in place and Pepsi needed a new source for their barter arrangement. Instead of bartering vodka, the Soviet Union bartered warships and freighters. Pepsi took control of the warships (all told, seventeen submarines, a cruiser, a destroyer, and a frigate) and transported them to the scrapyard, briefly having a larger arrangement of ships than most countries. Additionally, they also assumed control of a small fleet of new Soviet oil tankers, leasing them out or selling them in partnership with a Norwegian company. All told, it was a very profitable venture for Pepsi and one of the many lucrative interactions the company had with the Soviet Union before its fall in 1991.
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