Part 5: Thums Up Story: Campa Cola enters competition

Previously, we had seen how the Govt embarked on a project to develop a “Swadeshi” drink:

Before we go further into the story, let’s peek into the business model of soft drink industry which will help us understand and appreciate the events which unfolded after Coca Cola’s exit.

In its simplest form, a typical soft drink business comprises of:
1) Concentrate supplier
2) Bottling Plant

Depending on the magnitude of the business (statewide or nationwide), there can be one or more bottling plants, but there will always be only 1 concentrate supplier for a soft drink brand. The names are self explanatory: Concentrate supplier provides the concentrate which can be in the form of syrup or powder. The bottling plant mixes this concentrate with water, adds carbon dioxide to produce the carbonated (fizz) soft drink and distributes it to the retail outlets.
In the case of Coca Cola soft drink, the concentrate supplier was Coca Cola company which used to supply the concentrate (which was prepared by the company using its secret formula) to several bottling plants who would add it to water, carbonate it and distribute it on behalf of Coca Cola. Most of these bottling plants of Coca Cola in and around the NCR were actually owned by a company called “Pure Drinks”. i.e Pure Drinks was a franchise of Coca Cola and operated it independently. They depended on Coca Cola only for the concentrate and the brand name, but other than these, they were self sustaining independent companies.

When Coca Cola quit India in 1977, the operations of its bottling franchise Pure Drinks came to a halt. The Govt of India approached Pure Drinks and offered to supply the new “Swadeshi” Double Seven Cola so that it could resume operations. i.e Instead of Coca Cola, the Govt would supply the concentrate and Pure Drinks would continue bottling and the only change they had to do was put a different sticker (Double Seven instead of Coca Cola).

Although it looked like a safe proposition (no risk and production would resume as usual without affecting any process), the owner of Pure Drinks, Satwant Singh, who had an entrepreneurial mind, had some other ambitious plans in mind. He wanted to launch his own brand of cola to fill this gap left by Coca Cola and by the end of the year, his team had developed the concentrate formula which tasted similar to Coca Cola.

It was now time to brand this new cola drink by Pure Drinks. Since the company was well aware of the fact that customers loved (and even obsessed with) the Coca Cola brand, it chose a name which imitated it: Campa Cola. Such was the extent of imitation that even the fonts (text style) and colors were a replica of Coca Cola.
campa_cola_fontTo counter the tag-line of Double Seven cola’s “For the good times”, the company marketed its cola aggressively under the tag-line “Life is full of Campa Cola times”.
Although it was perceived as a “disgusting local imitation” of Coca Cola, the general impression was that was anyday better than Double Seven. Riding on the success of the Coke replica, which was targeted at the youth, the company launched an orange flavor as well, targeted at kids.
Despite the criticism (for imitation), Campa Cola turned out to be a successful brand within weeks. However, its supply was limited only around NCR region and metros.

Among the remaining franchises of Coca Cola, some of them switched to Double Seven and rest of them collaborated to create their own variants of Cola and other flavor drinks. “Torino” & “Dixi Cola” were some of the brands which became popular in South India. Duke’s was another brand which became popular in Mumbai in the absence of Coca Cola.
This way, the void left by Coca Cola was quickly filled by local brands, the major ones being Campa Cola, Torino, Dixi Cola, Duke’s and several more scattered across India. Hence there was still no pan-India cola brand which could fulfill the void left by Coca Cola.

Would it have been a wise idea for Campa Cola to ride on the success and expand operations by building bottling plants throughout India to reach out to all towns and villages? Or was the time right for risk-loving, pan-India company to introduce a new cola brand into its portfolio and seize the market?

We shall find out about these in the next part tomorrow.

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