Pepsi’s Cricket Deal Marks Opening Day for India’s Latest Cola War

In a cricket-crazy nation like India, partnering with one of the sport’s major events assures companies of garnering plenty of publicity. And in this, PepsiCo seems to have hit a winning stroke: In November, the American food and beverage firm won the title sponsorship to the Indian Premium League (IPL) for five years starting in 2013. This year’s IPL is scheduled to start on Wednesday.

PepsiCo’s winning bid was at Rs.397 crore ($73 million) for the five-year period, making the deal the largest investment the company has made in India related to the game of cricket.

The soft drink maker is now the “exclusive pouring partner” for eight out of nine IPL teams, meaning that PepsiCo’s foods and beverages will be exclusively served at partner teams’ home matches and Pepsi will also have the title of the “official beverage” for the eight teams.

“Winning the title sponsorship [of the IPL] was just the beginning,” Gautham Mukkavilli, CEO for beverages of PepsiCo India said in a news release. “We are committed to back it with smart, strategic and high-decibel marketing and activation plans that will help us maximize the tournament’s potential.”

Company officials expect the Pepsi-IPL sponsorship to result in a multiplier of at least five to six times the initial investment. “The timing of the tournament is also ideal, given that packaged beverages is an impulse category and nearly 50% of the consumption happens in the [summer] months,” according  to Deepika Warrier, vice president for beverages marketing at PepsiCo India.

Pepsi also recently rolled out a new marketing initiative in India. The “Oh Yes Abhi” campaign features cricket and film stars promoting the joys of living in the moment and instant gratification — “Abhi” in Hindi means “right now” — and is aimed at India’s large youth population.

Meanwhile, sector leader Coca-Cola has also launched a new marketing push. Leveraging the Facebook page and Twitter handle of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, the company launched a new campaign for its Thums Up cola brand. The same initiative has been launched in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh — the largest market for Thums Up in the country — with film star Mahesh Babu in the lead.

Coca-Cola has also launched a 400 milliliter container size across its brands. “We are strengthening our [occasion, brand, pack, price, and channel] model by adding another pack to our portfolio,” notes Anupama Ahluwalia, vice president of marketing at Coca-Cola India. “The 400 milliliter pack will offer more choice to the consumer and be especially relevant for the on-the-go consumer. Keeping with changing lifestyles, this pack will straddle between the existing 200 milliliter and 300 milliliter glass bottles and the 500 milliliter and 600 milliliter [plastic containers.]”

New Delhi-based research and consultancy firm Technopak Advisors pegs the size of the refrigerated carbonated beverages market in India at $1,287 million. “This segment is growing at 6% to 7% annually. Coca-Cola remains the market leader in this category with a market share of more than 55%, followed by Pepsi with around 40%,” says Gurbinder Kumar, associate director for food services and agriculture at Technopak.

According to a report in Indian financial daily Business Standard, “Each year the two cola majors cumulatively spend around $64 to $73 million on advertising, marketing and promotion, around 55% of which is earmarked for the summer months.”

Last year, Coca-Cola announced an additional investment of $3 billion in India through 2020 to further capture growth opportunities in the country’s fast-growing non-alcoholic beverage market, bringing the company’s total spending in the nation to $5 billion from 2012 to 2020.

The per capita consumption of soft drinks in India is among the lowest in the world at six bottles a year, compared to 80 bottles in Thailand and 800 bottles in the U.S. Delhi has the highest per capita consumption in the country with 50 bottles annually.

Technopak’s Kumar points out that a growing shift in consumer preferences toward healthier food has required both Coke and Pepsi to refocus their efforts in India. “Rising awareness about heart- and weight-related health issues, especially among teenagers and young adults, is driving the consumption of packaged fruit drinks,” Kumar says. “The increased awareness is leading consumers to upgrade from carbonated soft drinks to healthier beverages such as fruit juices.”

Coca-Cola, for example, has signed on the very first brand ambassadors for its mango drink, Maaza. Last month, the firm also rolled out a new campaign building on the “made with nature” tagline for its Minute Maid orange drink. PepsiCo, too, has launched a new push for its Slice mango drink and, in a worldwide first in the history of the firm’s Tropicana brand, the company has introduced fruit powders in India in three flavors.

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