Coke, Pepsi struggle to find fizz in India

NEW DELHI, Aug 10, 2006 (AFP) – With a billion-plus people in a hot climate and a booming economy, India should be a choice market for Coke and Pepsi — but the two cola giants have instead faced a very bumpy local ride.

The brands are in the midst of a publicity nightmare after an environmental group alleged that their sodas were high in pesticides, leading to full or partial bans in six Indian states.

But the issue is only one in a string of events that have kept the companies from getting a firm toe-hold in India, where stiff local competition has often seemed to get the better of the firms’ global marketing juggernauts.

Pepsi paid millions of dollars for leading Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan and cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, while Coke nabbed former Miss World Aishwarya Rai to endorse their drinks — without getting all-star results.

“India is just a different market and strategies used elsewhere just don’t work here,” said Abhijeet Kunda, a consumer goods analyst with Indian brokerage Prabhudas Lilladher. “The star endorsements may just be a waste of money.”

Coke and Pepsi hold about 95 percent of the market for soft drinks in India, according to industry figures, but profit has been