Thursday, November 2, 2006

Ildiko Nagy likes to toast her upbringing in communist Hungary with a grape-flavored soft drink.

She buys Traubisoda as part of her weekly shopping trip with her 9-year-old daughter. Together, they sing the Traubisoda song from a 1970s commercial Mrs. Nagy can recall from memory.

“It’s all about my childhood,” Mrs. Nagy, 42, said inside her Budapest kitchen, sipping a glass of Traubisoda. “It tastes better than Western brands, so I buy it for the home every week.”

Nostalgia has led Eastern Europeans to embrace the products they shunned in the 1990s, when the collapse of the Iron Curtain opened borders to goods from the West. From Traubi in Hungary to Inka coffee substitute in Poland and Jar dish soap in the Czech Republic, brands created to replace capitalist products are attracting consumers with disposable cash and credit cards.

Hungary’s “retro” brands — including Traubi, Tisza Cipo sneakers and Turo Rudi chocolate bars — are also attracting younger buyers searching for local products, said Reka Markovich, chief secretary of the Hungarian Advertising Association.

“These are Hungarian brands, which makes us feel that they are our own and no one can copy them.”

The new appetite for home-grown food, drinks and clothing labels that were ignored after the Berlin Wall crumbled isn’t based on price. Tisza Cipo sneakers, now considered an upscale product, sell for as much as $100 in chic brand stores in central Budapest.

Eva Molnar, 34, a journalist at a Budapest Web site, was drawn by childhood memories to snap up a pair of Tiszas last year for about $93.

“Tisza shoes were not cool when the communists were still in charge, but now they are cooler than any other brand,” she said.

At the Traubisoda factory in the village of Balatonvilagos, about 60 miles from Budapest, machinery that hasn’t changed since the 1970s churns out 80,000 bottles of grape soda daily, catering to consumers eager to relive the past.

The soda, made with 5 percent grape juice, is the country’s most popular behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi, said Traubi owner Salamon Berkowitz. The leading brand under communist rule, Traubi lost popularity to Western drinks, and the Hungarian government sold the company to Mr. Berkowitz in 1992 for $3 million.

Traubi, which is also sold in Romania and Croatia, has total sales of $13.8 million. The company is planning a sportswear line to profit from Traubi’s new popularity, Mr. Berkowitz said. The brand will be available in the Czech Republic and Germany next year.

“People are now coming back to the old-fashioned products because they are unique,” said Mr. Berkowitz, who fled communist Hungary with his family in 1951 for the United States.

At the George Soros-funded Central European University in Budapest, archivist Robert Parnica is creating an Internet catalog of everyday products used under communist rule.

“Every kid 20 years ago had Tisza sneakers,” Mr. Parnica said. “The road of remembering the past comes even now if you are 45 or 35 — you have a personal relationship to this product.”

Communist-era products are so popular in once-divided Germany that the consumer phenomenon is called “Ostalgia,” a play on the German word for east.

Turo Rudi, a chocolate-covered cream-cheese bar introduced in Hungary in 1968, is now owned by Friesland Coberco Dairy Foods Holding NV, the largest Dutch dairy. The company is marketing the product through a joint venture with Paris company Groupe Danone in Slovakia, Romania and Italy.

Inka, a company that produces a grain-based coffee substitute in Poland, spent about $3.2 million reviving its main brand and developing new products, including Inka Junior, a drink for children.

The company is owned by Biograin, a unit of Germany’s Kord Group, which bought the Inka factory and brands in 1998.

“We decided to revitalize the brand, to freshen the image, not only in the eyes of current consumers, but also to find new consumers,” said Pawel Jasienkow, Inka’s director of sales and marketing.

Jar detergent, which first appeared in what are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1959, also made the transition to the free market. Procter & Gamble Co., which in 1991 bought the company that makes Jar, expanded sales to Hungary and Croatia.

The soap was the only dish-washing product available at the time and has stuck in people’s minds, Norbert Racsko, an assistant brand manager at Procter & Gamble, said in an e-mail.

“It’s a memory from childhood, and I even sometimes buy it,” said Daria Spackova, 31, a film production manager.

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