Coca-Cola Versus Pepsi: And The War Rages On In ‘Diet Drinks’ Market!

Late last year, the soda market was in a frenzy over the introduction of the “share a coke campaign” in Nigeria. It is almost certain that many people bought more coke than they should have bought as a result of the campaign, leading to an amazing burst of sales for the Coca Cola company obviously. This is just one of the ways the company has been trying to outdo its major rival, Pepsi in the market.

Beverage drinks, popularly called ‘soda’ in many western countries and known as ‘soft drinks’ in our part of the world, have for long been among the world’s largest selling consumables. To say the least, these drinks have subtly become a regular part of many people’s diet, be it at home, at work or on special occasions. As such, it is almost impossible for many to pass by a chilled drink, especially in extremely hot weather, without grabbing a bottle or can to quench their thirst and enjoy that refreshing feel.

For some, it is more like a habit and a longing for that moment of ‘sugar rush’ at some time of the day. As unhealthy as the habit is acclaimed to be, due to the heavy sugar content of the drinks, the refreshing satisfaction derived takes the frontline in the minds of the numerous consumers.

Nevertheless, as medical findings continue to trace numerous ailments to high sugar intake, intensive campaigns against excessive sugar consumption have continued to garner momentum, creating more and more awareness for individuals to cut down on their soda intake. These campaigns, though well intended, have not augured well for the beverage companies, as they portend a possible loss of consumers in the beverage circle. Indeed the campaigns directly point fingers at beverage drinks as major contributors to the increasing health hazards caused by the intake of sugar. To this end, more and more consumers are increasingly looking for alternatives, patronizing drinks with lesser quantity of sugar, like natural fruit drinks or diet beverages.

As the wave of health consciousness continue to spread across the globe over the years, the very large and successful beverage companies have not been left out, as they have continued to do everything to ensure that they are not relegated to the background. Hence, in the face of the seeming onslaught against them, there is heightened effort to align their products with the current health standards. Moreover, the ongoing global health campaign advocating the drastic reduction of sugar in individuals’ diet have also occasioned stiffer competition between top beverage giants and arch rivals, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, as none wants to end up the bigger loser in this race.

In view of this, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are intensifying their century-long rivalry to remain relevant by positioning themselves as flag bearers of the ‘low sugar intake campaign,’ introducing a series of low sugar beverages in a bid to retain their health conscious consumers, who seem to be steadily running towards the ‘diet drink’ market. Though it will be quite difficult to erode the sales of regular high sugar beverages, as many consumers will always remain loyal despite the numerous health campaigns, it could be said that the awareness has caused a plunge in sales, further pushing these companies to vehemently seek to register their mark in the diet drink market, by manufacturing globally acceptable low sugar and low calorie drinks in order to pledge their allegiance to the trend.

On a global front, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are household names with numerous brands in the different countries. However, in this part of the world, brands like Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and Schweppes do it for Coca Cola, while Pepsi, Mirinda, 7up and Mountain Dew are the alternate versions on the stables of PepsiCo. Even from the positioning of these regular brands it is obvious that the rivals are not ready to let go of each other, with Pepsi closely trailing after Pepsi in most markets.

However, it is on record that it was Pepsi that first responded to the quest for ‘diet soda’ category of drinks that allowed consumers to enjoy the beverage without ingesting excess calories, with the launch of its ‘Diet Pepsi’ in 1964, way before current market leader, Coca-Cola, introduced its ‘Diet Coke’ in 1982.

Though Coca-Cola clearly leads the diet soda market in Nigeria today with its ‘Diet Coke’ and ‘Coke Zero’, Pepsi is not resting on its oars, with ‘Pepsi Light’ increasingly gaining grounds in the market. But, even as competition tightens, triggering radical sales mechanism, the storm doesn’t seem to be over for these companies, as reports have revealed that the Americans who are the largest consumers of the beverages are even getting wary of diet soft drinks. More so, as some researchers point to the fact that diet beverages could have components that pack up calories in the human body, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are faced with the pressure of finding ways of staying afloat as the diet drinks venture may eventually be unable to stem the tide of dwindling patronage. But, of the two rivals, who will draw the first sword this time around?

According to Nielsen’s 2014 survey that x-rayed the beverage market, specifically the diet soda segment, sales of these diet soft drinks plummeted by 7.3% from mid-February to mid-march, while the regular soft drinks volume jumped by just 0.6%. As a slight relief to Coca-Cola, its diet drinks performed slightly better in the overall category. While the former’s soft drink volume dropped to 5.8%, the latter’s fell 6.9% over the month-long period. At the same time, Coca-Cola’s regular soft-drink volume improved by 2.3%, while PepsiCo’s recorded a slim increase of 1.7%.

In all this, the question remains: who is winning the soda war? Though the results show that Coca-Cola has retained top spot for majority of the time, current situation points to the fact that no company is a permanent champion, as consumer preferences could swing the lead in a different direction at any point in time.

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