Purchase, N.Y. meets Havana

Successfully completing a political obstacle course that apparently took years to overcome, PepsiCo made its first direct and public showing in Cuba with a stand at the 29th International Havana Fair.

At the fair, officials representing PepsiCo’s Central America and Caribbean division apparently negotiated with purchasing agents of state food importer Alimport S.A. The company did not provide any information about pending sales to Cuba.

Pepsi officials in Havana two weeks ago referred all reporter questions to their company’s public relations department in Purchase, N.Y., which was unable to answer questions by deadline of this article.

The company used the fair  as “an opportunity to learn more about the country and interest in our product,” a spokesman said in a terse statement sent by e-mail.

A few years back, a Mexican export company sold Guatemalan-made Pepsi products on the island, but the brand has since disappeared from Cuban supermarket shelves. Then, in 2008, officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington announced that PepsiCo would have a presence at that year’s Fair. However, the company did not have a stand, nor has it apparently sold any U.S.-made product to Cuba since.

Competitor Coca-Cola has had a continued presence in Cuba, through a Mexican bottling company.

Although it was located on the margins of the big fairgrounds in suburban Havana, the slick PepsiCo stand turned the Alimport pavilion into a public magnet, with hundreds of Cubans patiently waiting in line to receive a handout. Among other freebies, the company offered bumper stickers that were apparently custom-made for a Cuban audience. 

Under an exemption of U.S. sanctions, U.S. companies have been allowed for 10 years to sell food and agricultural products directly to Cuba, on a cash-only basis. Since that opening in 2001, the United States have become Cuba’s No. 1 provider of food.

PepsiCo, Alimport officials at the Havana Fair stand
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