The carbonated soft drinks (CSD) segment in the country has continued to grow, despite the recent economic contraction which reduced purchasing powers of consumers.
This segment commands a sizable share in the food and beverage sector of the economy, despite the huge popularity of fruit juice, functional beverage, energy drinks, alcohol and bottled or sachet water in the market.
A research into the soft drinks market shows that there are over 18 carbonated drinks fiercely competing for market share in the country.
In their bids to increase market penetration, manufacturers of CSD products have adopted different strategies to expand the reach of their products and gain new consumers. This has further intensified the battle amongst manufacturers for bigger chunks of the soft drinks market.
The CSD market outlook
Carbonated soft drinks made an entrance into the Nigerian market in 1951 as products of the Nigerian Bottling Company Ltd, a subsidiary of the A.G Leventis Group with the franchise to bottle and sell products of Coca-Cola Company in Nigeria.
This leadership position remained unchallenged until 1960 when Seven-up Bottling Company commenced operations in Nigeria. Since then, the carbonated soft drinks market has been dominated by these two heavyweights and their brands have been big hits with consumers.
In early 2000, there was a market disruption as the La Casera Apple brand, an apple drink with real apple juice concentrate from the stables of LaCasera Company Plc, made entry into the Nigeria market. It is also noteworthy that it was the first to introduce PET plastic in its packaging.
Nigerian consumers across all ages and social classes fell in love with La Casera Apple, owing to its affordability and convenience of consumption as an on-the-go drink.
Before the introduction of PET plastic bottles, big players such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi had dominated the Nigerian carbonated soft drinks market with products packaged in glass bottles. This left consumers with the fear of bottle damage; needless to mention the hassles which came with carriage of glass bottles, and the unbearable stress of making monetary deposits when these products were purchased from retail stores. Some street urchins even used the bottles as deadly weapons in the wake of street brawls.
The introduction of PET packaged drinks by La Casera challenged the two previous giants (Coca-Cola and Pepsi) who also reacted with the launch their own PET bottle drinks into the market in 2004.
16 years down the line, many of consumers who spoke with Nairametrics believe that La Casera Apple gave Coca-Cola and Pepsi a good run for their money with the introduction of PET bottles.
The battle for market dominance
The Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), makers of Coca-Cola engaged in a direct competition with La Casera by introducing a new drink, Fanta Apple, to compete with La Casera Apple, which had already gained the love and confidence of consumers.
The drawn battle line between Coca-Cola’s Fanta Apple and La Casera Apple was short-lived as Fanta Apple fizzled out into thin air.
However, the recent introduction of another direct competitor into the market seems to have taken La Casera unawares. The new product, Bigi Apple drink, has shown that it has all it takes to challenge the dominance of La Casera in the apple drink segment.
To gain market share, the company has adopted a combination of product quality, relentless consumer engagement, and aggressive advertising.
Bigi Apple, from the stables of Rite Foods Ltd, started production in 2007 as part of the Ess-Ay Holdings Group.
According to information on its website, the Ess-Ay Holdings Group started from a photography business and later grew to become one of the first fully-equipped colour laboratories in Nigeria by 1978. In the mid-2000s, the group diversified into the FMCG sector with the birth of Rite Foods Limited. However, a message sent to the company yielded no response.
Currently, the company produces many consumer products such as the Bigi sausage roll, table water, and carbonated drinks of different flavours. The company currently has 11 different consumer products on its list.
The size and price wars
Bigi Apple has garnered patronage from consumers, owing to the fact that the product comes in a bigger 600ml (60cl) PET plastic bottle and costs N100.
Owing to this, La Casera’s Pet bottle was changed from 50cl to 60cl, at the same cost of N100 which many describe as pocket-friendly.
What consumers say
Consumer preference is mostly influenced by taste appeal and brand loyalty. Many of consumers said that La Casera Apple has been able to sustain its unique taste over the years but wondered why the drink’s visibility has reduced.
Consumers also acknowledge that Bigi Apple seems to be dominating the Lagos market. They advised that La Casera must act fast before Bigi gains more visibility in other parts of the country.
Consumers believe that the major drivers of the market are the prices and sizes of the plastic bottles, which most times translate into increased content.
They commended La Casera for adjusting to the dynamics of the market by coming up with a bigger size pack with the same price.
A check on major retail stores in Lagos also revealed a large presence of Bigi Apple, while the La Casera Apple is hardly visible. A retail outlet owner identified as Mrs. Adeyemi revealed to Nairametrics that consumers prefer the Bigi Apple and it sells faster.
Bigi's market is only Lagos state and maybe south west, outside these places Bigi has no or very minute market share. So its only in Lagos Bigi is popularly know but generally Lacasara is king.
— Tha Intern Boss (@chimmyark) June 12, 2018
I don't know how they did it but bigi has forced both lecasera and coca cola into a corner. I haven't been outside Lagos State but the aggressive move that bigi has employed, soon they will dominate the plastic bottle drink market
— Obie (@ObieOnonye) June 13, 2018
Right now Lacasera only has its past glory to stay afloat but what's really selling is Bigi Apple. Thats the most selling Bigi product. The demand is something else. If you ask shop owners, you will confirm.
— Timinipere Ababa (@timinipereAbaba) June 12, 2018
LOL its not even close. One has been around for so long, the other is only just starting. Unfair battle.
— SEUN (@Dan_Onas) June 13, 2018
According to a poll conducted by Nairemetrics, more consumers clearly voted for La Casera Apple as their preferred apple drink but also advised that the company needs to wake up from its slumber as the product is no longer as accessible as it used to be.
Recently, workers of the company threatened to shut down the company over some unresolved labour disagreements. This and many other internal issues may have impacted on its distribution capacity.
The dominance of La Casera in the apple drink segment is under threat with the emergence of Bigi Apple in the market. How this eventually plays out, only time will tell.
Additional information provided by Aluko Meka and Ayooluwa Hasstrup