By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
In the recent past, Coke, produced by Coca Cola Bottling Company was the king of the carbonated soft drinks. According to Times magazine, it is number one global brand. However, in Nigeria, times are changing for the global icon. Findings by BusinessHallmark show that the cola giant, Cocacola may have abandoned the mass market in Nigeria to competitors. Everywhere you go, the ubiquitous presence of established competitors like Pepsi, and the new poster boy, Bigi is not in doubts.
Aside Diet Coke, reestablished into Nigerian market in 2005 by the American soft drinks giant, it is as if Coke has virtually disappeared from the market. The intense rivalry between carbonated soft drinks (CSD) giants, Coca Cola and Pepsi is the stuff of legends.
Findings by BusinessHallmark across business clusters in Lagos from Idumota to Ikeja to Iyana Ipaja to Mushin and Oshodi showed the pervasive presence of Bigi range of soft drinks from orange to Apple variety. Produced by Rite Foods Limited, this newspaper learnt from various distributors and retail outlets in Lagos that Bigi soft drinks have dominated the market.
More intriguing is the disappearance of bottled Coke and its plastic 50 CL variety. The only Coke still visible in the market is the Diet variety.
Mojisola Olaniyi, a distributor of carbonated drinks at Abule Egba, a Lagos suburbs, told this newspaper that ” From what we learnt bottled coke is not making any headway as consumers prefer plastic one, and in the face of keen competition, a competition that has been innovative and aggressive in recent year, CocaCola came up with Diet coke , and small plastic one , the 35CL sold at N50 as part of the solution to the challenging competition. In Nigeria, where poverty rate is high, most low income earners prefer quantity to quality, thus the explanation for the success of recent fringe player competitors as Bigi.”
“Nowadays, most people ask for Bigi products, what can we do, we respond to the taste of consumers, that is why you see Bigi products everywhere”, Ahmed , a carbonated drinks retailer at Ketu Alaperu ,confirmed and offered explanation for the pervasiveness of Bigi in a chat with this newspaper.
At various bus stops in Lagos, on the point soft drinks vendors have more of Bigi products than any other soft drinks, including Pepsi and Cocacola.
Efforts to speak with CocaCola company failed, as text messages sent to their image makers were not answered, while call could not go as the line was switched off.
The new kid on the block, Bigi, has established itself in the consciousness of low income consumers.
Abayomi Suleiman, a brand expert, and chief research officer at. Statistica told this newspaper that,” Let me be honest with you in terms of taste, Coke is still number one; the success of Bigi is a combination of nationalism and aggressive pursuit of goals.”
Continuing, Suleiman said, “Mr. Seleem Adegunwa, the Managing Director of Rite Foods Limited recently declared that journey the company embarked upon was not an easy one as it requires persistent hard work to achieve remarkable results.
“He stressed that the process of achieving the ISO 9001:2015 certification from the Standard Organization of Nigeria, SON was challenging. The certificate is normally issued after a company has duly met all the criteria of excellence in product production.
Adegunwa in a recent release said the Certificate was not just for the sole purpose of getting issuance but is as a result of the culture the company has chosen to imbibe in the everyday operations of the organisation, an inherited culture from her parent company, Ess-Ay Holdings led by Dr. Adebola Adegunwa, a visionary Chairman which has helped pave the path towards achieving excellence.
“We believe at Rite Foods that ordinary people are capable of achieving extraordinary things;
ISO Quality Management Standards has enabled us plan for future growth and aim at satisfying customer expectations”, he said.
Adegunwa further explained that to assure stakeholders of the company’s commitment to quality during food & beverage production & packaging; Rite Foods decided to embark on this journey of excellence. This route was identified by ISO as the certification of her Quality Management System to the requirements of ISO 9001:2015.
Mrs. Mojisola Kehinde, Director Laboratory Services of SON told this newspaper “that the Certificate acquired by Rite Foods Limited is in conformity to the requirements of ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System standard.”
She added that this milestone achievement by the Company in the pursuit of production of quality consumable products is worthy of emulation by all Food and Beverage producing industries in Nigeria. Knowledgeable sources told BusinessHallmark that CocaCola is already working on strategy to maintain its leadership position in the soft drinks category, no matter the challenge from Pepsi and to a lesser degree, Bigi.
Pepsi fired the first salvo more than 40 years ago when it challenged its more established competitor in a taste contest that forced Coke to naively alter its winning formula and launch ‘New Coke’. Pepsi won this first round, as Coke got a backlash by loyal coke fans and were forced to re-evaluate their decision.
Ever since this near-disaster-at least for coke, both brands have been engaged in a head-to-head battle that has now become part of our global culture. Both brands have dominated the Nigerian market in value and volume, yet analysts constantly debate what really drives consumer preferences.
The Loyalists Perspective
PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have spent billions of dollars over the years to build dynamic and vibrant brands, with both brands boasting a huge global customer base. Coca Cola lovers argue that the feeling of a chilled bottle of Coke is second to none. For many, it’s a distinct feeling of sheer “happiness”, a position that Coca Cola’s has nurtured over the years.
Beneath the volumes of fizzy bubbles is the underlying message of “if you want to be happy, drink Coke”. This brand message taps right into the most desired want of humanity, evoking emotion and making an instant connection with consumers over its competitors.
Pepsi, on the other hand, is slightly different. The brand anchors its core strategy on music and entertainment, occasionally releasing taglines that reinforce its “challenger” archetype. For Pepsi, just as music refreshes the soul and mind, the sweet and subtle taste of Pepsi guarantees total refreshment for its loyal customer base.
In Nigeria, both brands have evolved in almost every respect. Whilst Coca Cola continues to adopt a global marketing strategy, Pepsi deeply embeds itself in the local communities to which it is present, a strategy that allows it respond faster than coke to the ever-changing demands of its customers.
The Big Cola & Bigi Conundrum
As the battle for “Cola Supremacy” in Nigeria raged on, it appears that both brands momentarily lost track of the evolving needs of its teeming fans.
Just before Nigeria’s economic meltdown between 2015 and 2017, two new ambitious players entered the cola market, with a simplified offering and clear focus on delivering more value for lower prices. Big Cola and then Bigi quickly began to attract a new base of recession impoverished Nigerians that still needed a “refreshing cola experience”.
For a number of retailers in Lagos, Bigi in particular quickly gained ground on its cola competitors, stealing a march on its global rivals with an aggressive pricing regime. With over N30 billion worth of investment already down, Bigi has doubled production capacity to capture a large share of the Carbonated Soft Drinks segments.
“We like coke o, but it is too expensive. Our customers do not like to buy one bottle of 50cl Coke for N150 when 50cl Pepsi is N100. Our customers rather buy 60cl Bigi for N100. They feel that they are getting more value for their money” said a distributor for Coke, Pepsi and Bigi.
But as price reduction is never a useful strategy for long term differentiation or business growth, the great cola giants responded, triggering a new dimension in the cola wars in Nigeria
The Great Price War
When the recession hit in 2016, both brands hiked the prices of their 50cl bottles to N150 to cover losses in foreign exchange variations, but both faced instant backlash. Pepsi was first to respond by launching its brilliant “Things I Long Throat For” campaign, introducing the 60cl Pepsi “long throat” bottle. This new product was 20% more than the previous Pepsi bottle and priced at just N100, giving consumers more value for their money.
The campaign which was driven by the brand’s ambassadors (Wizkid, Tiwa Savage & Seyi Shay) generated a significant buzz on social media, trending for weeks with customers posting, tweeting and retweeting.
Unsurprisingly, Coca Cola responded in February 2016, slightly later, with the release of its own 60cl pet bottle. The company also unveiled the ‘Solo or Bigger Boy’ campaign, offering its customers a choice between the 60cl bottle at N150 and the 35cl bottle at N100. With massive advertising and publicity and because the bottle was so innovative, Coke appeared to regain some ground.
While Coca-Cola was celebrating the launch of its new bottle, Pepsi retaliated with a price reduction campaign tagged, “No Shaking, Carry Go” offering customers the 50cl Pepsi bottle at N100. With no plans to slow down, Pepsi aggressively promoted this new offering across a few key markets. This campaign received a lot of radio airtime as well as massive promotional activities across its key locations.
Just as market analysts believed we were entering a season of relative calm in the cola price wars, Coca Cola launched its ‘Mama di Mama’ campaign, unveiling the ‘Mama’ 1 Litre bottle at the retail price of N200.
We can only begin to imagine what new invention the guys at PepsiCo are cooking up to counter this new onslaught.
On Facebook, Coca-Cola Nigeria welcomes 107.4 million fans, while Pepsi Nigeria has slightly over 1milllion fans on its official page which isn’t enough to compete with Coke. However, Pepsi Nigeria’s Twitter account boasts a following of 175,000 followers compared to Coke’s 154,000 followers.
On Instagram, things get a bit more exciting as Coke comes back on top with a following of 173,000 whilst Pepsi has 152,000. It is worth mentioning that both Coke and Pepsi are social media leaders, however, the clarity, consistency, and content quality maintained on their global platforms is not translated to their Nigerian pages.
Locally for both brands, it seems as if there is no clear content strategy to drive the core brand message across their social media platforms. Based on statistics alone, both brands clearly have a huge following on the different platforms, and each brand works hard to increase and maintain their following. Coke’s value of family and community are well represented, while Pepsi’s energy and use of celebrity shine through.
But, evidenced through its Facebook and Instagram accounts, Coke clearly holds an advantage and wins on social media because Coke has a larger audience, in terms of activity and engagement. For social media, there is a clear winner but the rest is up to your taste buds.
In spite of the decline in the sales in Nigeria 2018, Coca Cola still outperforms Pepsi and all other cola beverages, across virtually all financial indicators.
However, its global-to-local marketing operations leaves it vulnerable to Pepsi, whose localised strategy allows it to respond faster to the threat of much smaller and more agile brands.
While the jury remains out on the winner of the cola wars globally, it is safe to cede this round to both Bigi and Big Cola, for daring to challenge a duopoly that has existed for more than 40 years within the Nigerian environment.