Will Reliance bring Campa Cola’s fizz back with relaunch or will it fizzle out of the soft drinks market?


March 25, 2023

Nivedita Jayaram Pawar, Moneycontrol

March 25, 2023

Campa Cola, that much-loved soft drink from the ’70s and ’80s, is set to return to supermarket shelves this summer. Mukesh Ambani’s newly floated FMCG flagship Reliance Consumer Products (RCP) bought the brand from its makers Pure Drinks in August last year, reportedly for Rs 22 crore. The cola will be re-launched in a new contemporised avatar this summer. Campa Cola, Campa Lemon and Campa Orange will be rolled out in phases starting with Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and then across the country. The company is on a drive to acquire and promote homegrown Indian brands with a deep-rooted connect with Indian consumers. RCP has also acquired a 50 percent stake in the 100-year-old legacy brand Sosyo from Hajoori Beverages Pvt. Ltd this January. Lotus Chocolate from the Pai family, Sri Lanka’s leading biscuit brand Maliban and its own JoyLand confectionery, and Independence and Good Life food brands are other important pieces of its portfolio.

The back story

Coca-Cola entered India in the 1950s but made a hasty retreat two decades later when the Indian government introduced a regulation that would have required it to reveal its formula. Interestingly, it was the Pure Drinks Group that first introduced Coca-Cola in India in 1949, and was its sole licensed manufacturer and distributor. The Group which also owns the Le Méridien hotel in Delhi, decided to launch its own cola in the market after the unexpected and overnight exit of Coca-Cola from India. Since the company already had the expertise and the infrastructure — 12 bottling plants, plus manpower in excess of 10,000 — this seemed the natural thing to do. Pepsi had not yet arrived and the only other competition was the state-owned Double Seven and Thums Up owned by Ramesh Chauhan’s Parle Bisleri.

Campa which promised “The Great Indian Taste” was launched using locally developed concentrate in three flavours — cola, orange and lemon. Though apple and jeera flavours were added later, cola made up almost 80 percent of the product mix. In the 15 years that followed Campa went on to rule the Indian soft drinks market. It even used the same Coca-Cola font. During its heyday, it was manufactured in over 50 factories across the country, including four in Delhi. However, Campa started to lose its fizz by the mid-’90s, when Coca-Cola returned and homegrown Thums Up started gaining ground. It gradually disappeared from stalls and shelves across the country. Production of the drink at the Delhi factory stopped in 1999. The heroic comeback of the ‘Made in India’ brand after more than three decades is making many Indians nostalgic. And the fact that it’s backed by a home grown conglomerate is only adding to the excitement.

Will nationalism and nostalgia alone suffice to throttle the strong base, aggressive marketing campaign and sprawling distribution network created by Coca Cola and Pepsi? Experts feel that nostalgia will definitely drive people to try the cola especially since its challenging international giants in the segment. But it will take a lot more than that believes Devangshu Dutta, founder of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight. “Though the brand has some latent awareness, it’s with a different segment — people in the late 40s and upwards. But the consumption pattern is driven by a younger profile. So Reliance will have to build the awareness and the stickiness for the product with the segment. And that’s a hard piece of work which is why I believe they have brought in the tried and tested tactic that they use — price wars. They have launched it at a price which has forced the incumbent two international brands to lower their prices.” Campa is priced at Rs 10 for a 200 ml bottle and Rs 20 for a 500 ml bottle.

Positioning will also play an important role in this, he adds. “Reliance will have to figure out how to position the brand correctly and make that positioning distinct from the existing players. Coca-Cola has always been about happiness, whereas Pepsi is all about the younger generation and Thums Up is about daring. Campa Cola will have to find its own distinct positioning. Without that they will just be a generic cola drink. Of course being the largest retailer in the country helps and their vast retail network will definitely be an advantage. But that can’t be the end of it.” According to sources, the company is expected to advertise Campa Cola heavily during the Indian Premier League (IPL).

According to brand strategy expert Harish Bijoor, Campa has the potential of emerging a viable competitor to the two big MNC colas Coke and Pepsi. “The brand has the power of being a local one, in an environment where the local is celebrated over the global. I do believe Campa can enjoy the power of desi-revival to give it wings,” he says but cautions that nostalgia won’t suffice. “The brand and its taste is long forgotten. It is important to stoke these dead embers. It is important to position the brand distinctly with USPs that scream the ‘desi taste’! Desi tone, desi tenor and desi decibel will help.”

The branded non alcoholic beverage market in India is pegged at Rs 450 billion with Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Parle, Dabur and ITC being the key players along with several regional brands. The strong wave towards healthier options will pose some problems for the iconic brand feels Angshuman Bhattacharya, national leader — consumer product and retail sector, EY India. “The carbonated soft drink (CSD) market is witnessing headwinds (4 percent growth) as consumers are moving towards healthier beverages (12-15 percent growth). In this context, CSD is a tough and highly competitive category, hinging on bottling and distribution strengths. Campa Cola is a brand which is familiar to Indians, but will need large investments to scale. However with the largest retail house backing the brand, it could well be a success story given the larger modern trade and general trade platform available to scale it up.”

The return of the cola

Though Campa was synonymous with cola in the 1990s, today’s urban 20-somethings have only heard of the drink through nostalgic ramblings of their parents and older cousins. Incidentally Campa Cola gave actor Salman Khan his first TV commercial, much before he became a mega star. The 1982 advertisement showed Khan guzzling on the cola while on a yacht along with Tiger Shroff’s mom Ayesha Shroff and other models, while a catchy jingle played in the background. This was a time when Bollywood actors used TV commercials to break into the industry. “The creative was pretty much left to me. I had suggested, for some strange reason, that we do it underwater. A lot of people had done beach scenes, a lot of people had done parties scenes, music, beach parties, stuff like that. It was something different and I also liked to travel while shooting ads,” says advertisement film-maker Kailash Surendranath who shot the ad in the Andamans.

“Campa Cola used to be a birthday party treat or a drink we had at get togethers. We would also pack crates of it for long drives and picnics. There was not much choice those days as Coke had just exited the country and Pepsi hadn’t entered. But above all it was a great tasting drink — not too fizzy like Thums Up or overtly sweet like Gold Spot. It was just right,” remembers Swati Roy, an advertising professional.

Aarti Khandelwal a housewife in Delhi remembers visiting the Campa factory in Connaught Place as a student. “We were packed in a school bus and led to this factory where we were dazzled with how colas were made. I remember we were even treated to a bottle each after the visit,” she says. “Ek cola dena actually meant ek Campa Cola dena,” recalls Shirish Date, who loved the soft drink and is eagerly looking forward to picking it up. “I will buy it just for the old times’ sake. It’s a part of my childhood. I just hope they don’t mess with the taste too much. The tag line then was ‘the great Indian taste’ and I hope they stick to that,” he says.

(Published in Moneycontrol)