Pepsi suddenly scarce in Thailand after bottler breakup

Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:33am EST
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The day after PepsiCo Inc's bottling deal in Thailand expired, its partner of 59 years launched its own soft drink that has knocked Pepsi off store shelves.

Serm Suk Pcl, backed by the billionaire owner of Thai Beverage Pcl, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, said its new soda called "est" garnered 19 percent of Thailand's $1.8 billion cola market in just two months following its November 2 launch.

Pepsi's breakup with its bottler meant it also lost access to Serm Suk's vast distribution network, which delivers drinks to about 200,000 stores, restaurants and vending machines serving Thailand's market of 67 million people.

The two companies had a non-compete clause that expired when their contract ended on November 1. Pepsi has similar non-compete clauses with bottlers in other markets such as China, but the decision backfired in Thailand.

The following day, est hit the market, costing about the same as Pepsi and sold in the same bottles, with a red, white and blue logo reminiscent of Pepsi's. Pepsi declined to comment on whether it was pursuing any trademark violation claim.

"We did not deliberately set out to push Pepsi off the shelves but we have a very strong distribution network and if we stop distributing for one company, that company's products will disappear from the shelves," Pragnee Chaipidej, advertising manager at Serm Suk, said in an interview.

She declined to comment on similarities of est to Pepsi.

Thailand was one of the few countries where Pepsi's cola drink outsold arch-rival Coca-Cola Co's, but Coke caught up in 2011 and built a lead last year, according to data from research firm Euromonitor International.   Continued...

A man carries a bag with ice past a cooler with an advertisement for est sodas in Bangkok January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa