Cola War battle gets tougher

The battle between Nigeria’s top cola brands, Coca-Cola and Pepsi is probably as old as Nigeria itself. The war has always been predicated on price, volume and campaign activities. Both brands are credited with producing some of the most exciting and elaborated marketing campaign in a bid to outdo each other in terms of market share. And they have sustained their duopoly with fierce intensity, which has made it almost impossible for a third major cola brand to break into the fray.

Just a few years ago, Peru based Ajeast attempted to crack the Coca-Cola/Pepsi firm grip on the category by launching it Cola brand into the Nigerian market, alongside other carbonated drinks. It was such an audacious launch that immediately created shivers and panic among the top two. Big Cola’s strategy was predicated on Size and lower price. But Ajeast also had another clever strategy, which was maintaining a low advertising budget while devoting majority of its resources to building and supporting an aggressive distribution network to drive availability and awareness.

More so, its lower price strategy was a major incentive for consumers to buy and also guarantees bigger profit margin for retailers. The strategy seemed to have worked. Within a short time they were rewarded with sales. Nigerians loved the fact that they could get more value even at a lower price. Ajeast leveraged on the increasing awareness to press forward with its aggressive distribution strategy.

Obviously, Ajeast’s rising profile in the Nigerian market was a concern for both Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Their apprehension was exacerbated by Ajeast’s disruptive reputation in other markets where it has successfully forced its way into the top bracket of the cola segmet. “They upstaged the market by introducing a 65cl bottle (volume war) at a reduced price of 90 NGN (price war) with a lot of Below The Line (BTL) materials to accompany it. This really rattled the market leaders,” Oluwole Dada,  sales and marketing executive at Nestle Nigeria said.

It took some time before Coca-cola or Pepsi reacted but they eventually did. Pepsi was the first to react with “long throat” (a 60cl bottle selling at N100).They also embarked on media campaign with Above The Line (ATL) promotions leveraging on celebrities as part of the advertisement. Coca-Cola also introduced more value by increasing the size of their pet bottles to 60CL for the same price.

With the response of Pepsi and Coca-cola, their prices ranged between 100 NGN and 120 NGN while Big Cola was selling their 65cl bottle for 90 NGN with its price printed on the product. The market was silent for a while on actions and reactions until some months back. Coca-cola brought back 35cl PET selling it at 100 NGN and moved the price of 60cl PET to 150 NGN. This was actually an offensive in the Cola war.

According to sources, the feedback from the trade was awesome on the 35cl PET. “At this point, I suspect that Big Cola was battling with the sustainability of their trade and marketing activities. I believe they went on a retreat. Coca-cola followed their offensive action with massive advertisement both on BTL and ATL with the payoff “Solo and Big Boy”. Pepsi followed as well with a reaction by bringing down the price of their 60cl which was earlier sold at 120 NGN to 100 NGN and followed it with aggressive campaign that have not been seen in a while.

While Coca-Cola and Pepsi may have succeeded in taming the rampaging onslaught of Big Cola and retaining their grip on the Nigerian cola segment, they seem to have a new problem on their hands and it is called Bigi Cola. To be clear, Bigi Cola has no connection with Big Cola even though the name probably sounds similar. Unlike Big Cola, Bigi cola is an indigenous brand from the stable of Rite Food in Opebi and they also produce other carbonated soft drinks too.  MARKETING EDGE research shows that Bigi Cola and other soft drink brands are fast gaining market penetration especially in traditional brick and mortar retail store.

In pushing its brands, Rite Foods has adopted about the same marketing strategy as Ajeast, focusing the bigger slice of its budget on BTL and extensive distribution and very little attention on Above the Line. And while the other brands have been forced by recession to reduce volume Bigi Cola and other Bigi brands holds steady at 65cl for N100. Thus offering more value at reduced price. Toyin Dolapo, a major distributor of carbonated drink brands in Ikeja told MARKETING EDGE that the brands is attractive to consumers because it offers more value and Nigerian consumers, especially at the grassroots love quantity.”

Responding Ganiyu Olowu a brand expert said, Bigi Cola’s growth has been helped by the recession. “Even though the country is technically out of recession, most Nigerians are still in it. That is why they will always go for the brands that offer more value, especially in terms of quantity.”


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