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Will Reliance’s relaunch of Campa unleash the next round of cola wars in India?

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While there are a lot of odds stacked against the relaunch of Campa in the Indian carbonated beverage market, experts are hopeful that Reliance will be able to pull off a Jio… Or will it?

Mumbai: Reliance Consumer Products Ltd (RCPL) acquisition of yesteryear’s iconic Indian soda brand Campa Cola has grabbed headlines and airtime. But the question now is whether Reliance will be able to live up to its expectations and take Coke and Pepsi head on in a very competitive market dominated by the two US cola giants.

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RCPL, the FMCG arm of the wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Retail Ventures Limited (RRVL), earlier this month announced it has acquired the beverage brand Campa for Rs 22 crore.

RCPL said it plans to first roll out the beverage in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana before going to other states across the country. The sparkling beverage is being launched in three flavours: Campa cola, Campa lemon and Campa orange. Campa will be available in five pack sizes: 200 ml, 500 ml and 600 ml, 1,000 ml and 2,000 ml home packs. (Read more about it here).

Also, some Reliance Retail stores in Mumbai have started to stock the latest offering from Reliance’s stable with some introductory pricing.

Campa Cola, originally manufactured by Pure Drinks Group and Campa Beverages Pvt. Ltd., had dominated the Indian cola market for nearly three decades–from the 70s to early 2000s–before fizzling out of the market with the onset of global cola giants like Coca Cola and PepsiCo after India liberalized its economy in 1991.

While the revival of the iconic brand brought back nostalgic memories for those who have experienced the brand, it also raised some very interesting questions. The biggest among them being: Will Campa Cola be able to succeed on mere nostalgia or Reliance’s might in the face of stiff international competition from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo?

Competitive landscape

According to a report by ResearchAndMarkets.com, the Indian soft drink market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7% between 2021 and 2026, driven by factors such as rising disposable income, changing lifestyles, and the increasing popularity of functional and non-alcoholic beverages.

According to a report by Euromonitor International, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo together held a 73.5% share of the Indian soft drink market in 2020, with Coca-Cola holding a 41.5% share and PepsiCo holding a 32% share. Even then some experts and market watchers said there is enough room in India’s growing economy for a third brand to not just co-exist but also grow.

“Reliance’s acquisition of Campa is an interesting move, as it gives them a foothold in the highly competitive soft drink market in India. While Coke and Pepsi are certainly dominant players in the market, there is still room for new players to carve out a niche and gain market share,” Abhishek Kaushik, founder, D2C FMCG Brand Mitra said.

The Reliance Effect

The consumption of carbonated drinks in India was 44 bottles per capita in 2016, significantly lower compared to the US, where it was 1,496 bottles. Market watchers reckon the figure for India has grown over the years but it is still very low compared to the Western world, thus, there is ample room for players to grow in India.

“In a market that is expected to increase at a CAGR of 14.9% to reach US$ 220 billion by 2025, from US$ 110 billion in 2020, Reliance’s move is a rather bold one,” Swetha Kochar, partner at PKC management consultancy.

Considering that Reliance launched RCPL with the aim of promoting homegrown Indian brands, experts feel that the acquisition is not surprising and, in fact, it is very much in line with its strategy to promote homegrown Indian brands with a rich heritage and a deep-rooted connection with Indian consumers.

For example, Reliance has acquired the manufacturing and distribution rights for yesteryear’s electronic brands including Kelvinator and BPL. It also announced acquiring 50% stakes in Sosyo Hajoori Beverages Company (SHBPL) which owns a beverage brand, Sosyo. The brand has a legacy of around 100 years in carbonated soft drinks and juices.

Considering this, Kochar and other experts feel that the launch will, in fact, create excitement in the beverage segment and offer consumers an alternative to global brands like Coca Cola and Pepsi. It will also create room for growth and innovation.

“We all know that Reliance with its unique strategies has been able to penetrate even the most monopolized markets and make a niche for itself. So it will be rather exciting to see how they penetrate a market of Pepsi and Coca-Cola,” Chirag Patel, co-founder, Stratefix Consulting said.

 One of the strength is Reliance Retail own network of thousands of supermarkets and convenience stores, they said.

Jio-like Jitters

Although Campa has Reliance’s retailing and distribution muscles behind as well as a lot of old goodwill, the pitfall for Reliance is that it is up against global giants of Coke and Pepsi, experts said.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been in the market with a wide variety of offerings for a long time and created a large market here.

Reliance has already fired the first salvo in an imminent next round of cola wars in India. In a bid to counter that Reliance is starting a price war: Campa was launched at introductory prices of Rs 10 for 200 ml, Rs 20 for 500 ml, which are 30-35% less than its competitors. This move alone is giving the incumbents as well as distributors jitters who are worried about a Jio-like disruption and price-war where Reliance is seen as responsible for dirt-cheap call and data charges in India. When it was launched in September 2016, Jio customers were offered free data to customers till March 2017 along with other offers, which totally upset the applecart for other players in the market.

“Reliance’s earlier move in the telcom industry (Jio launch) created a mess among its competitors. Now, what happens is that Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Campa will run after volumes and reducing the MRP from Rs 50 to Rs 10 will sustain their volume and provide growth but for the distributors, the turnover will get affected by 33% and it will not even reduce the expenses,” said PM Ganeshraam, chief patron, All India Consumer Products Distributors Federation (AICPDF).

He added that “The distributors will stand to lose unless the manufacturers like Coca-Cola or Pepsi take care of the distributors’ margins directly or indirectly.”

Challenges for Campa

While pricing and distribution remain a matter of concern and debate, FMCG  and retail experts are asking a more basic question: Will Reliance’s bold move to relaunch Campa be a success?

“In a market that’s dominated by global brands like Coca Cola and Pepsico, it’ll be difficult to muscle away for the relaunched Campa Cola that may have been an iconic brand 40 years ago. A lot had changed since and while the bulk of the people drinking aerated drinks is in the age bracket- 12-35 it’ll be a tough one as they have not consumed this brand before,” marketing consultant Dr. Kushal Sanghvi said.

“It’s going to have to challenge hard and yet live upto the equity that Campa had and not be relegated to the cola brands available in tier 2 cities; that would really be ironic for such a legacy brand,” Sanghvi added.

Other experts feel that having the name and muscle of Reliance behind it might work in the brand’s favour. “While Coke and Pepsi have long dominated the industry, Reliance’s vast resources and business expertise could help it gain market share,” Vinay Maheshwari, chief executive officer and founder of The Health Factory said.

“Despite the challenges, the acquisition of Campa provides Reliance with an opportunity to diversify its product portfolio and tap into the growing demand for soft drinks in India. It is also in line with Reliance’s broader strategy of expanding its consumer goods business and establishing a stronger presence in the retail sector,” Kaushik said.

All said and done, experts agree that it will take a lot more than predatory pricing and Reliance name to make Campa succeed.

The key ingredients Campa needs

Sanghvi feels that it will really boil down to taste, great marketing communication- good customer connect and building a sort of likeability in a category that’s driven on quick purchase cycles.

“The company’s success will come down to how well it can make a product that is both unique and appealing to customers,” said Maheshwari.

He concurs with Sanghvi that Reliance must invest in effective branding and marketing strategies to become a strong competitor in the market.

“Reliance will need to invest heavily in marketing and advertising to build awareness and generate demand for Campa products,” said Kaushik.

“To compete with these global giants, Reliance needs to focus on product quality, pricing, and marketing strategies while continuously innovating to stay ahead of the competition,” said Kochar.

The situation is very similar to what it was when Reliance launched Jio. When Jio was launched, there was already high competition and barriers to entry. Nevertheless, Reliance managed to develop the right strategies to tackle these obstacles and disrupted the entire market in just six months.

Experts, therefore, are looking at Jio as a prime example of Reliance’s ability to succeed in a market with dominant competitors and have faith that the brand will come up with a robust plan to establish itself in the market.

Will Campa be the next Jio?

“It’s not new for Reliance to enter existing, established, and mature markets and disrupt them in unimaginable ways. Jio is a prime example. While Jio’s strategy cannot be applied to the Beverages FMCG market, we believe that Reliance will come up with a robust plan to compete in the current market and establish Campa Cola as a significant brand in the beverage market,” Kochar added.

According to Kochar relaunching Campa Cola is a good step considering the generation of Campa Cola are now old enough to introduce the brand to their new families, which will help increase organic reach along with the right marketing strategies.

Patel of Stratefix Consulting observed that India is still a country where over 80% sales are through local kirana stores. With Jio’s vast network, Reliance has been able to penetrate the tier 1 and 2 cities where many still refer to beloved Coke as Campa.

“While the strategy for Jio was different from what the company would adopt for a beverage, piggybacking on the network is an apt way to get started. With their ability to take over a market of Airtels and Vi’s, there is no debate that they would have acquired Campa at Rs. 200 Crore with a strategy in mind,” added Patel.

With experts rooting for Reliance inspired by the success of Jio and competitors and distributors doing all they can to prevent a bloodbath and Jio-like disruption, the next few months will be crucial in unbottling the fate of Campa.

Campa history

In 1983, the then young and hip India was lured to try a homegrown Cola that had The Great Indian Taste’- the Campa Cola. Among those who featured in the brand’s innovative underwater ad were none other than Salman Khan, Ayesha Shroff and Aarti Gupta.

Campa Cola ruled for years after its launch in 1977 by Pure Drinks Group after Coke exited the market in the mid-1970s along with 50 other American companies amid massive unrest in the nation. Incidentally, Pure Drinks Group was also the company that introduced Coca-Cola in the country in 1949.

Campa Cola, manufactured by Campa Beverages Pvt. Ltd. and Pure Drinks Group became an instant hit as it filled the void created by Coke. Initially, it was launched with an orange flavour drink in competition with another prominent soft drink brand Thumbs Up. In a matter of time, its popularity increased in the country. However, as the American brand PepsiCo (earlier Pepsi) entered the Indian market in 1989 and 1991 and Coca-Cola re-entered, they began to overtake Campa-Cola with a tactical advertising policy.

While the popularity of Campa gradually decreased, the brand also faced a setback in 2006 when the Indian government banned it due to allegations of high levels of pesticides in its products.

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