How did Ramesh Chauhan give the toughest competition to Coca Cola?

Ramesh Chahuan is rightly considered as the Father of Indian Soft Drinks and gave the toughest competition to foreign brands like Coca Cola and PepsiCo in India. Ramesh Chauhan completed his degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and returned back to India to fill the market gap in the soft drinks industry.

Let us look at how Ramesh Chauhan, who belonged from the Parle Company, kept the foreign brands busy in establishing themselves in India.

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Ramesh Chauhan with her daughter Jayanti Chauhan

Coca Cola and PepsiCo left India for a brief period

PepsiCo entered India after the independence from Britishers in the year 1949 and Coca Cola followed it later. From that time only they did a great job of reaching from the bigger cities to villages. They were dominating the market until 1962 when PepsiCo left India due to decrease in sales for a long time.

Every multinational company was growing under Nehru’s extensive policies but then came the Foreign Regulations Act of 1973 where MNCs were asked to sell 60% of their equity to local Indian businessmen/partners.

Due to this Act, several companies such as Kotak, Coca Cola and 55 other companies quit their businesses in India. This meant that Coca Cola had to reveal their secret recipe to the Indian partners, IBM had to reveal its codes which was impossible for the companies.

Ramesh Chauhan, man who once sold Thunder in a bottle
Market Opportunity for Ramesh Chauhan

Presence of the local brands in soft drinks market

Some of the Indian brands such as Mangola, Artos, Duke’s were present even before Coca Cola and PepsiCo but could not have market dominance and later faded. But then came the young Ramesh Chauhan with his ideas of changing the whole industry.

Mumbai based company called Parle started producing cold drinks and introduced India with Thums Up, RimZim, Citra, GoldSpot, Limca and Mazaa.

RimZim was a spiced masala soda drink which became very famous in India. Spiced masala sodas are still very popular in India and can be seen sold at smaller stalls (especially) in Tier II & III cities.

Citra was a lemon based drink and tasted same as Sprite.

GoldSpot was an orange flavoured drink and served as a replacement for Fanta.

Limca is another success story of Parle. Limca had a very distinct flavour, has a lime flavoured taste and is sold mainly in India and some parts of the US.

Thums Up which was the biggest player in this market was the best alternative for Coca Cola and Pepsi. It has a very unusual taste but was loved by everyone round that time. Thums Up has more fizz, it’s spicier and was less sugary in taste. Even today, Thums Up has the highest number of sales in India followed by Sprite, then Pepsi and then Coca Cola.

Mazaa was another drink that became famous during that time, it’s the famous Mango drink that is still sold today at a large scale.

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Marketing and Promotion of Parle’s soft drinks

Ramesh Chauhan was handling the marketing and promotion of 6 different types of drinks at the same time. It was really a humongous task which was taken up by the team.

The advertisements and promotions were done on television, there were billboards and sponsorships done to keep the business flowing. They grew fast and had 62 plants altogether in all four zones of India.

Pepsi came back into business in India in the year 1988 with a joint venture under the the Punjab government-owned Punjab Agro Industrial Corporation (PAIC) and Voltas India Limited. But they had to change the name to ‘Lehar Pepsi’ and make it more Indian. Lehar in Hindi means wave.

From 1988, there was a fierce battle between Thums Up and Pepsi to gain market dominance. Pepsi ran a commercial where it mocked the taste of Thums Up. On the other hand, Thums Up commercialised itself with a new slogan called ‘Taste the Thunder’ and promoted itself as an edgier and muscular drink.

Limca was heavily marketed as a drink that served people nimbu-pani (roughly translates to: lemon-water). It gave the market the much required desi touch.

Columnist and publicising tactician K Kurien, who had made Amul Butter a commonly recognised name, given contributions to the mission.

Maaza, enlivened by Mangola, a mango drink sold by Duke’s, was likewise overseen by K Kurien. Yet, Mangola was not mass advertised and Ramesh Chauhan investigated that chance too.

Some of the jingles from that times were –

Thirsty times…Limca Time for Limca’.

Zing Thing’ , ‘Ji Bhar ke Jio Gold Spot‘ and ‘Happy Days Are Here Again‘ for GoldSpot.

For Thums Up it was ‘Taste the Thunder..Toofani Thanda‘.

Bottle me aam, Maaza hai nam?’ for Mazaa.

They had a good run until India’s economic conditions started collapsing. USSR had broken down by that time in 1991 and it had a big economic impact since it was socialist India’s guardian. Under then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, India liberalised its economy to the world.

That was when Coca Cola came back and re-entered the Indian market in 1993. The brand rolled out in 17 cities in 17 months, starting with Agra in October 1993.

Stiff Competition and Exit from Soft Drinks Market

After Coca Cola re-entered, Ramesh Chauhan could see the stiff competition in the market and he knew that his 62 plants, out of which only 4 were owned by him; the rest 58 plants were independent partners would not be able to handle the tough situation. Even tough RJC Bottlers had a market share of 80% in 1993, most of the plants were being poached by the Coca Cola Company.

It was then later decided by the team to sell RJC Bottlers’s products – Thums Up, Limca, GoldSpot, Citra, Mazaa and RimZim for a whooping $60 million in 1993 which roughly values at $1.5 billion as of 2021. Thums Up discontinued the sale of Citra and GoldSpot to launch Sprite and Fanta in India. RimZim was discontinued but they kept Thums Up and Limca since it was enjoyed by the people.

Ramesh Chauhan or lovingly called as RJC was said to be tears when he had gone to the US to sign the papers and meet then Coca Cola Chairman-CEO Neville Isabelle and thought that his days as an entrepreneur was over until of course he was back into the industry with new ideas.

The Incredible Story Of Ramesh Chauhan: The Cola Man Of India
Ramesh Chauhan had earned $60 million from Coca Cola in the year 1993

Re-inventing Bisleri and market dominance

Bisleri was a bottled water company which was owned by an Italian businessman called Felis Bisleri but was bought by Ramesh Chauhan in the year 1969. He had bought the company for 4 Lacs INR but that was the last thing RJC had on his mind.

RJC understood the market of bottled water and realised that bottled water was something that was required during travelling to parties, everyone wanted clean and mineral water. From 1995, he had fully concentrated on Bisleri by establishing Bisleri International Private Limited.

Soon people started using the word ‘Bisleri’ more than asking for mineral water and it became synonymous for it. Recently they had also launched a new product called ‘Vedica’ for people who were health conscious. It is said that this mineral water is taken from the ranges of Himalayas.

The Incredible Story Of Ramesh Chauhan: The Cola Man Of India

The bottled water market in India had reached Rs~160 billion in 2018 and it is expected to grow annually by CAGR of 20.75% and reach Rs ~403.06 billion by 2023. Currently, Bisleri has a market dominance of 40% in India and Bisleri, the well-known packaged drinking bottle company, is looking to triple its revenue from the current Rs 1,500 crore to Rs 5,000 crore by 2022.

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