Poll: Phuket prefers Coke

PHUKET: Just under half (49.6%) of respondents to a recent Gazette poll said they prefer the taste of Coca-Cola (Coke) over that of three other competing brands on the market – Pepsi, Est and Big Cola.

The poll, which ran online from August 2 to September 1, was answered by 514 unique respondents, who were asked which cola brand (sold in Phuket) they thought tasted the best.

Six choices were: Big Cola; Coca-Cola (Coke); Est; Pepsi; Undecided and Don’t know, haven’t tried them all.

Respondents were broken up into three demographics as follows: Thai nationals (40 or 7% of all votes); Local Foreign Residents (335 or 65% of votes) and Tourists/Visitors to Phuket (139 or 27% of votes). Coke had an undisputed margin in all demographics, claiming exactly half the votes from both tourists/visitors as well as foreign residents/expats; the iconic brand had a slightly lower preference penetration rate (43%) among Thai respondents, however.

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Claiming the second most votes in the poll overall, and in each demographic, Pepsi drew 21% or 108 total votes (20% of Thais, 21% of expats and 22% of tourists). Despite commanding an undeniably strong market presence in a short window – now going on 11 months since debuting on the Thai cola market – Serm Suk Pcl’s Est brand failed to win over a loyal following among Gazette readers, with only 5.8% of respondents choosing it (8% of Thais; 7% of expats and 4% of tourists).

Not surprisingly, generic brand, Big Cola had the least amount of votes with 4.3% or 22 total votes, while 4.1% or 21 respondents said they were undecided and 15.2% or 78 respondents admitted that they had not tried all brands and thus could not choose just one. Despite Coke’s clear margin in the poll, Phuket area manager at local distributor Nam Thip, said that the results probably did not reflect the actual market.

“I definitely think we [Coke] have a higher loyalty and market reach in Phuket than the poll results [49%]. For one, Phuket has a lot of foreigners, who tend to lean towards Coke. “Secondly, our market [penetration] reaches nearly 100% of the area, where-as the other brands don’t… Coke has had a loyal follow-ing, around the world and in Thailand for a long time coming, and we’re definitely not falling behind in Phuket,” he said.

In distant 2nd, Pepsi remains ever-fluid in the Phuket market. The sales manager of its local distribution arm, Supercheap, told the Gazette that the brand is starting to reclaim some of the market share that it had lost late last year following the launch of similarly-branded, Est. “I think many customers were initially confused about the new [Est] brand. Since it looks and tastes similar to Pepsi, I think many assumed we had just changed names [from Pepsi to Est],” she said.

Not only are the two brands similar, consumers’ confusion may have further been fueled by Pepsi’s repositioning strategy of moving away from Thailand’s refillable glass bottle market, in which Serm Suk – the producer of Est – has long had a logistical stronghold over.

Prior to Pepsi selling its majority shares in Serm Suk to Thai Bev Pcl (the producer of Chang beer) late last year, Serm Suk was Pepsi’s Thai bottler and distributor nationwide for nearly six decades.

And despite Pepsi’s claim that Thailand’s refillable glass bottle segment is on the decline, it is undeniable that this segment still has a significant consumer reach, especially at local Thai eateries across the Kingdom, where as of late last year, Pepsi had vanished overnight, immediately replaced by the newer and similarly branded, Est cola.

However, Supercheap’s sales manager responsible for Pepsi sales and distribution in Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga provinces, says that sales are starting to pick up again. “Consumers are more aware of the difference in the brands now. Taste is one important factor, but our stronger and more established brand is also a major factor,” she said. Serm Suk’s sales manager responsible for Est’s distribution across Southern Thailand (based in Surat Thani), didn’t think the Gazette poll reflected the brand’s actual market share.

“As far as I know, our market penetration is not that low [5.8%]. From my point of view, our brand should have a better result… I think the poll must reflect the opinions of only some in Phuket, many of whom are probably foreigners that tend to be branded to Coke.

“Our target customers are mainly Thai people. So, I think poll results will vary depending on the market. All in all, it’s possible that preference [for Est] in Phuket and the Southern region is lower, but it’s definitely higher in the whole of Thailand,” she concluded.

Last but not least (well, technically, last and least) – Big Cola, with its product differentiation of being caffeine-free and competitively-priced, continues to claim a bigger share of the pie.

A Southern Thailand area representative of the generic brand’s local distributor, AJE Thai Co Ltd, said that the Gazette’s taste preference poll results reflect the company’s actual market share.

“Our market share in Southern Thailand is about 5%, and our sales have continued to increase every month since January. They dropped a little in June but rebounded after that. “We aim to maintain our momentum in the market reinforced by our two key selling points: a caffeine-free cola [sold] at a lower price for everyone,” she concluded.

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Additional reporting by Anthika Muangrod

— Steven Layne

Business News

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