Coca Cola India's Thirst for the Rural Market: 'Thanda' Goes Rural
In early 2002, Coca-Cola India (CCI) (Refer Exhibit I for information about CCI) launched a new advertisement campaign featuring leading bollywood actor - Aamir Khan. The advertisement with the tag line - 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola' was targeted at rural and semi-urban consumers. According to company sources, the idea was to position Coca-Cola as a generic brand for cold drinks. The campaign was launched to support CCI's rural marketing initiatives. CCI began focusing on the rural market in the early 2000s in order to increase volumes. This decision was not surprising, given the huge size of the untapped rural market in India (Refer Exhibit II to learn about the rural market in India). With flat sales in the urban areas, it was clear that CCI would have to shift its focus to the rural market. Nantoo Banerjee, spokeswoman - CCI, said, "The real market in India is in the rural areas. If you can crack it, there is tremendous potential. However, the poor rural infrastructure and consumption habits that are very different from those of urban people were two major obstacles to cracking the rural market for CCI. Because of the erratic power supply most grocers in rural areas did not stock cold drinks. Also, people in rural areas had a preference for traditional cold beverages such as 'lassi'6 and lemon juice. Further, the price of the beverage was also a major factor for the rural consumer.
CCI's Rural Marketing Strategy
CCI's rural marketing strategy was based on three A's - Availability, Affordability and Acceptability. The first 'A' - Availability emphasized on the availability of the product to the customer; the second 'A' Affordability focused on product pricing, and the third 'A'- Acceptability focused on convincing the customer to buy the product.
Once CCI entered the rural market; it focused on strengthening its distribution network there. It realized that the centralized distribution system used by the company in the urban areas would not be suitable for rural areas. In the centralized distribution system, the product was transported directly from the bottling plants to retailers (Refer Figure I). However, CCI realized that this distribution system would not work in rural markets, as taking stock directly from bottling plants to retail stores would be very costly due to the long distances to be covered. The company instead opted for a hub and spoke distribution system (Refer Figure II). Under the hub and spoke distribution system, stock was transported from the bottling plants to hubs and then from hubs, the stock was transported to spokes, which were situated in small towns. These spokes fed the retailers catering to the demand in rural areas.
CCI not only changed its distribution model, it also changed the type of vehicles used for transportation. The company used large trucks for transporting stock from bottling plants to hubs and medium commercial vehicles transported the stock from the hubs to spokes. For transporting stock from spokes to village retailers, the company utilized auto rickshaws and cycles. Commenting on the transportation of stock in rural markets, a company spokesperson said, "We use all possible means of transport that range from trucks, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and hand carts to even camel carts in Rajasthan and mules in the hilly areas, to cart our products from the nearest hub."7 In late 2002, CCI made an additional investment of Rs 7 million (Rs 5 million from the company and Rs 2 million from the company's bottlers) to meet rural demand. By March 2003, the company had added 25 production lines and doubled its glass and PET bottle capacity8. Further it also distributed around 2,00,000 refrigerators to its rural retailers. It also purchased 5,000 new trucks and auto rickshaws for boosting its rural distribution. Through its rural distribution...