Why the ‘cola war’ may continue to spiral

Feature — Cutthroat competition in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) market is as old as time. The global and oldest brand warfare in the carbonated drinks category remains that of Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola. Today, many consumers all over the world still do not know what influences their choices between the two giants. The brand attachment to Coca Cola and Pepsi is arguably the most dependent among consumers, in any market the duo has presence. But their brand duel is also ubiquitously present in any territory they wield market dominion.

Meanwhile, the Pepsi and Coca Cola duopoly in the Nigerian carbonated drinks market was effectively disrupted a few years ago. The interruption began in earnest in 2015, when AJEast Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of AJE Group, maker of Big Cola, threw its hat in the ring. The Big-Cola brand marched into the market with the USP of more quantity, less sugar and no caffeine. At a time, when the nation’s economy was at its most precarious, Big Cola launched a content war on the cola market and achieved a relatively rapid acceptance.

Unlike previous new entrants that would have started competing and earning mindshare from the fringes of the market, Big Cola, to the consternation of industry watchers, gained instant acceptance and patronage from consumers in Lagos State. It was unprecedented because there is a popular saying among Nigeria’s marketing professionals that whoever gains the trust of Lagos consumers has succeeded in the nation’s market, in advance. With little or no marketing spend/noise, Big Cola took the mainstream market by storm. And without it going through the conventional evolutionary marketing funnel, consumers gravitated towards the brand.

Entrenched and duopolistic brands such as Coca Cola and Pepsi were obviously startled. And in response, Pepsi introduced what it themed ‘Longer Throat Bottle’ with a 20% increase in content. Coca Cola followed suit by offering what it tagged ‘10cl-free 20% content for the same price’, a strategic response experts referred to as the ‘bandwagon effect’ or ‘the easy way out’ at the time. While prices remained relatively the same, the warfare seemed to have centred solely on contents.

Big Cola would have scarce arrived before Bigi, a product of Rites Foods Nigeria Limited, joined the fray in 2016. As if that wasn’t enough challenge to the rooted duopoly in the cola-flavoured beverage sector, Royal Crown Cola, an American soft drink manufacturer, moved into the Nigerian market in 2018. It, however, appears the youngest player is still struggling to gain a foothold in the already saturated market.

In the 21st century marketing environment, it takes more than freebies, price slash and all forms of push strategies to lead and maintain profitability. Contemporary marketing requires going the whole hog and touching every aspect of the marketing ecosystem.

The battle for the cola mind and market share, meanwhile, appears not have abated. And Coca Cola isn’t taking the challenge lying down. With its broad geographic footprint in the Nigerian carbonated beverage market, 9 plants and distribution channels across the 36 states, NBC’s market dominance seems impregnable. More so, when it comes to innovation and strategy, Coca Cola can hardly be found wanting.

Taking the cola war a step further, Coca Cola recently extended its cola brand with a new entrant christened Limca Cola. During the first quarter of 2019, Coca Cola made an unconventional brand extension in the lime category by extending it to cola. It was arguably the first cross-branding experiment in the carbonated drinks sector in Nigerian market. Whether such audacious and avant-garde marketing move is going to change the rules of the game remains to be seen.





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