Welcome to dining in Tehran, Iran’s capital! Customers sip Coca-Cola while waiters serve Heinz ketchup and two types of Tabasco sauce. These and other American brands appear throughout Iran—despite sharp divisions between the two countries.
U.S. sanctions have taken a heavy toll on oil and other major industries in Iran, a country of 80 million people. But Western food, movies, music, and clothing are still widely available. Forty years after the Islamic Revolution (see “Iranian Revolution Anniversary”) and despite billboards proclaiming “Death to America,” Iranians embrace U.S. products.
“The American lifestyle is very attractive,” says Ahmad Rezaee, a student at Tehran University, adding that Coca-Cola “portrays that lifestyle for us.”
Tensions have soared following the U.S. decision last year to withdraw from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran has begun openly violating limits set by the deal. Still, drinking a “Coca” or Pepsi after eating kebab in Iran is popular—though the drinks don’t taste quite as sweet as the American versions.
Asked about sales in Iran, Coca-Cola says it has sold concentrate to Iran for over 20 years in line with U.S. sanctions policies. “The authorizations are very restrictive,” Coca-Cola says. “The company does not have any ownership interest in the Iran bottler and does not have any tangible assets in Iran.”
Pepsi declined to comment about its products in Iran. Kraft Heinz Co. admits that “like many Western companies, a few of our products are made available via a local Iranian distributor.”
The McIlhenny Co., maker of Tabasco, says it “expressly prohibits its distributors from reselling Tabasco brand products in Iran.” But CEO Harold Osborn says his company has a hard time stopping “illegal distribution networks from secretly diverting our products to Iran.”
Meanwhile, at a café near Tehran University, Rezaee and Sima Najafzadeh enjoy their Cokes. They’d like to see more iPhones, McDonald’s restaurants, and other symbols of America. Najafzadeh says, “We love Americans.”
(An Iranian woman drinks a Coca-Cola at a cafe in downtown Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)