Mecca aims to be world’s number two cola

It started as a protest against US foreign policy. Now, the big boys are starting to take notice of Mecca-Cola, says its creator, Taoufik Mathlouthi.

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By  Robbie Published  March 9, 2005

Mecca-Cola, the soft drink launched as a protest against US foreign policy, aims to grow its 3% market share in the GCC to 7% by 2008. With a marketing strategy that includes virtually no commercial advertising, Mecca-Cola was at February’s Gulfood exhibition to find out one crucial thing: Is the brand a passing phenomenon or a genuine rival to the soft drink empires of Coca-Cola and Pepsi? “Since coming to Gulfood, I now have the assurance that our brand is for real, and we have results to back up the claim that our product is the third-rated cola in the world, both in sales and volume,” says Taoufik Mathlouthi, founder and chairman of Mecca-Cola. Unsurprisingly, the company’s strongholds are in Muslim countries. Mecca-Cola accounts for 22% of Yemen’s soft beverage market, and 18.5% in Algeria. Furthermore, last year in France the beverage was the second-rated soft drink ahead of Pepsi; shipments in Europe reached 42 million litres. However, Mathlouthi knows the importance of the GCC, seeing it as a metaphorical gateway to both west and east; the UAE, in particular, represents a shop-window for wider exposure of this comparatively embryonic brand. “We focus everywhere, but with special emphasis on the GCC. Dubai is now our world head office,” says Mathlouthi. “It is crucial to have a strong presence here; people are coming from all over the world. It’s a central business hub.” Following a brief but unsuccessful television advertising campaign with Al Jazeera, Mecca-Cola has opted to sponsor many of the peace and freedom movements around the globe that symbolise its vision, including London’s protest march against the war in Iraq. However, the company accuses rivals of not giving it a level playing field. “The real problem is that the major brands fight dirty. For example, we have a lot of difficulty in [obtaining] raw materials because the big players in the market undercut us,” says Mathlouthi. “In the beginning, Coke ignored us, but now they are getting concerned,” he adds. Mathlouthi claims that a recent statement by Coca-Cola shows that the big boys are beginning to view Mecca-Cola as a serious contender. In a statement made in 2004, Douglas Daft, chairman of the board of Coca-Cola in Atlanta said: “Now we have to think and act locally.” Whatever the force of Mecca-Cola’s impact, Mathlouthi says the company will need funding of around US $150-200 million to achieve its lofty ambitions. “It is not a dream, we truly believe that we can become the second brand of cola in the world, ahead of Pepsi,” says Mathlouthi. Ultimately, financial backing will be key to the company’s development. However, Mecca-Cola’s political image may make it more difficult to find potential investors.

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