NEW DELHI: Thums Up, which ruled India's fizzy drinks market for three decades, has been toppled from its perch by Sprite — both of them beverages from Coca-Cola India's portfolio — in an indication that consumers here are rejecting colas, in line with trends elsewhere.
Ramesh Chauhan, the man who created Thums Up in 1977 and sold his beverage business to Coca-Cola in 1993, says it's all down to the palate and clever ad campaigns. "Cola is an acquired taste... and to a large extent colas owe their success to very aggressive advertising and marketing through the years," he said. "On the other hand, lemon is a taste that's natural and something almost every household consumes."
Sprite has been outselling Thums Up for three months now, according to industry officials who cited market share figures sourced from the country's biggest research firm Nielsen.
While Thums Up's share for August was 15.3%, that of Sprite was 15.6%. For the previous two months as well, Thums Up has trailed behind Sprite, according to the latest Nielsennumbers. A Nielsen spokeswoman said: "We are unable to validate or verify any brand/company specific numbers, as per company policy with regards to client confidentiality clauses."
Chauhan, who also created iconic brands such as Limca and Bisleri, said other markets also reflect a similar shift in preferences. For example in China, which is Asia's biggest market for Coca-Cola, Sprite leads brand Coke. In India, Sprite overtook Pepsi as India's No. 2 aerated drink four years ago.
Thums Up remained India's biggest-selling soft drink even after Coca-Cola acquired Chauhan's business. This was despite going without marketing support for a while, when the US acquirer sought to promote Coke at the expense of the homegrown brand.
Coca-Cola India's spokesperson declined to comment on the market share numbers but said: "We appreciate the encouragement our consumers have been providing to Thums Up and Sprite over the years... Between them, the two have more than 30% share of the soft drinks market."
Coca-Cola India now puts a lot of marketing muscle behind Thums Up, spending the most on it among all its brands in India. It has brand endorsement by Salman Khan, the country's most expensive Bollywood star. The brand was previously endorsed by Akshay Kumar.
Sprite, on the other hand, has never used a well-known personality to endorse it. Instead, it has relied on irreverence with its cheeky ads sometimes aimed at Mountain Dew's macho posturing. Sprite's current brand positioning is 'Chalo apni chaal', which roughly translates as 'Do your own thing'.
Nielsen data also show that the lime-lemon segment now has a 36% share of the Rs 14,000-crore aerated drinks category, compared with the 35% of colas. The lime-lemon segment has also been growing at the cost of orange-flavoured fizzy drinks.
Dew also sells more than its cola. A PepsiCo spokesman said Mountain Dew is the country's fastest growing soft drink, but declined to divulge market share. India is the seventh largest market for Coca-Cola.