It must have been April 2013 when I suddenly noticed a new cola drink to be omnipresent in Thailand: EST cola. All food courts, restaurants and supermarkets not only carried this cola drink, but displayed and promoted it prominently. When I asked a few Thai friends, they said that it was the new name for Pepsi Cola in Thailand. Seemed plausible, the colors were exactly the same and I no langer spotted Pepsi on the shelves. But than I tasted EST (awful, btw, in my personal opinion) and saw Pepsi re-emerge. So maybe no new name after all. It slipped my mind for a while, but yesterday I got curious again and did some research. Turns out that it is quite the marketing story. One I really respect.
Pepsi had been imported by a Thai company called Serm Suk, since the 1950’s. Serm Suk popularized the drink and obtained 48% market share, making it the nr. 1 soda drink in the country (with Coca-Cola in second place with 42% market share). Late 2012, the agreement between PepsiCo and Serm Suk wasn’t renewed. Rumour has it that PepsiCo wanted a higher price for the Pepsi syrup (which is shipped from the States and mixed with carbonated water, locally), amounting to somewhere around 60% of the consumer price. Others say that PepsiCo tried and failed to take over Serm Suk.
Whatever the reason might be, Serm Suk decided to replace Pepsi-Cola with their own brand. EST cola was born. With the distribution chain in place, they took the market by storm. With five bottling plants, almost 50 branch offices, 1.200 trucks on the road, 150.000 coolers in place and around 200.000 points-of-sale in their hands, the market was theirs from the start.
By the end of the year, EST cola had secured 19% market share and the number two market position, behind Coca-Cola. Pepsi became hard to even find.
Pepsi is setting up a bottling plant in Rayong and will rely on DHL for the distribution. Mean while, Serm Suk is looking to sell the brand for 1,56 billion Baht to International Beverage Holdings (both are ThaiBev subsidiaries). They retain the manufacturing and distribution, of course.
Way to stick it to the man! 🙂