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Thu 28 Aug 2008 06:17 AM

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Drinks giants in Ramadan battle

EXCLUSIVE: Coca-Cola redesign, charity bid aims to take No. 1 spot from Vimto during holy month.

Vimto, the purple fruit cordial that is popular in the region during Ramadan, is facing stiff competition this year from Coca-Cola, which is forecasting record Middle East sales during the month.

The US beverage giant told Arabian Business that for the first time, sales of Coke are expected to be unchanged or higher during Ramadan, thanks to an orphan charity programme in Saudi Arabia.

“As people welcome Coca-Cola products more and more during and after iftar, we estimate that we will not be negatively impacted during the month of Ramadan,” spokesperson Kadri Ozen said.

“While our specially designed packaging and visual campaigns will serve as our link to the festive spirit of the holy month, which includes celebration, togetherness and meals, the many social programs that we are engaged in help us build stronger connections with our consumers.”

During the month, 10 percent of the company’s profits in Saudi Arabia will be donated to “Insan”, a charity program that provides social and economic support to orphans.

Last week Coca-Cola unveiled a special Ramadan can featuring a crescent moon and a star.

Ramadan is a key period for food retailers in the Middle East as food sales rise by up to several hundred percent.

Beverages are particularly important since most people break the fast with a sweet fruit drink to raise energy levels. However, major brands like Coke have seen their sales fall in previous years as daytime sales plummet.

Aujan Industries Co, which produces Vimto under license in the Middle East, admitted that among young people, fruit cordials are losing ground to carbonated drinks like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, but claimed that it is the smaller brands that are taking the hit.

“We see those players each year shrinking and shrinking,” said marketing manager Ahmed Shaboury.

Vimto came to the Middle East 82 years ago and enjoys a special place on dinner tables during Ramadan, when sales of the UK brand rise six-fold to 18 million bottles per month.

Vimto will be targeting young Arab mothers in this year’s Ramadan campaign, signaling the nuclear family’s growing importance to retailers.

“In the GCC, society is moving towards nuclear families. The young mother who used to have iftar with her parents or her parents in law is now the decision maker in her house, deciding which brands to choose.,” Shaboury said.

“It’s important for us to take this trend into consideration and remain relevant to our younger audience.”

The TV commercials will portray young, modern Arabs in an aspirational environment, he said.

Aujan has previously produced some of the most attention-grabbing commercials in the Middle East.

Last year it launched a multi-million dollar, comedy-themed Vimto campaign during Ramadan under the slogan “They’re going to finish it all!”

The 45 second commercials included a sleeping woman attacking her husband in bed with a bat as she dreams of somebody trying to take away her Vimto bottles.

Another “advertainment”, as the company calls them, shows a young woman who can’t stop drinking Vimto during her marriage ceremony.

Comedy shows have become popular on Arab television during Ramadan, with some series produced especially for the month.

Kraft Foods’ Tang is another popular, energy-boosting drink after a day of fasting. Sales rise by 200% during the month.

“You don’t want to break the fast with something that is carbonated. So you’re looking for something that is sweet to drink, which quenches your thirst and gives you quick energy,” said Vishal Tikku, GCC marketing director at Kraft.

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Mohamed 12 years ago

Vimto has a totally unique flavor! My taste buds decide, not my sight!! Perhaps Coke will get a temporary surge in the market because of its new packaging. Though it is not, the packaging you drink. Remember the old jingle, "Things go better with Coca~Cola better with big, big Coke" May not be true in this case.