1. Why Is the Soft Drink Industry so Profitable?

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1. Why is the soft drink industry so profitable?
An industry analysis through Porter’s Five Forces reveals that market forces are favorable for profitability. Defining the industry: Both concentrate producers (CP) and bottlers are profitable. These two parts of the industry are extremely interdependent, sharing costs in procurement, production, marketing and distribution. Many of their functions overlap; for instance, CPs do some bottling, and bottlers conduct many promotional activities. The industry is already vertically integrated to some extent. They also deal with similar suppliers and buyers. Entry into the industry would involve developing operations in either or both disciplines. Beverage substitutes would threaten both CPs and their associated bottlers. Because of operational overlap and similarities in their market environment, we can include both CPs and bottlers in our definition of the soft drink industry. In 1993, CPs earned 29% pretax profits on their sales, while bottlers earned 9% profits on their sales, for a total industry profitability of 14% (Exhibit 1). This industry as a whole generates positive economic profits.

Rivalry: Revenues are extremely concentrated in this industry, with Coke and Pepsi, together with their associated bottlers, commanding 73% of the case market in 1994. Adding in the next tier of soft drink companies, the top six controlled 89% of the market. In fact, one could characterize the soft drink market as an oligopoly, or even a duopoly between Coke and Pepsi, resulting in positive economic profits. To be sure, there was tough competition between Coke and Pepsi for market share, and this occasionally hampered profitability. For example, price wars resulted in weak brand loyalty and eroded margins for both companies in the 1980s. The Pepsi Challenge, meanwhile, affected market share without hampering per case profitability, as Pepsi was able to compete on attributes other than price.

Substitutes: Through the early 1960s, soft drinks were synonymous with “colas” in the mind of consumers. Over time, however, other beverages, from bottled water to teas, became more popular, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Coke and Pepsi responded by expanding their offerings, through alliances (e.g. Coke and Nestea), acquisitions (e.g. Coke and Minute Maid), and internal product innovation (e.g. Pepsi creating Orange Slice), capturing the value of increasingly popular substitutes internally. Proliferation in the number of brands did threaten the profitability of bottlers through 1986, as they more frequent line set-ups, increased capital investment, and development of special management skills for more complex manufacturing operations and distribution. Bottlers were able to overcome these operational challenges through consolidation to achieve economies of scale. Overall, because of the CPs efforts in diversification, however, substitutes became less of a threat.

Power of Suppliers: The inputs for Coke and Pepsi’s products were primarily sugar and packaging. Sugar could be purchased from many sources on the open market, and if sugar became too expensive, the firms could easily switch to corn syrup, as they did in the early 1980s. So suppliers of nutritive sweeteners did not have much bargaining power against Coke, Pepsi, or their bottlers. NutraSweet, meanwhile, had recently come off patent in 1992, and the soft drink industry gained another supplier, Holland Sweetener, which reduced Searle’s bargaining power and lowering the price of aspartame.

With an abundant supply of inexpensive aluminum in the early 1990s and several can companies competing for contracts with bottlers, can suppliers had very little supplier power. Furthermore, Coke and Pepsi effectively further reduced the supplier of can makers by negotiating on behalf of their bottlers, thereby reducing the number of major contracts available to two. With more than two companies vying for these contracts, Coke and Pepsi were able to...
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