Cola Wars 2010 Case Study Pdf

Case | HBS Case Collection | December 2010 (Revised May 2011)

Cola Wars Continue: Coke and Pepsi in 2010

by David B. Yoffie and Renee Kim


Examines the industry structure and competitive strategy of Coca-Cola and Pepsi over 100 years of rivalry. The most intense battles of the cola wars were fought over the $74 billion CSD industry in the United States, where the average American consumes 46 gallons of CSD per year. In a "carefully waged competitive struggle," from 1975 to the mid-1990s, both Coke and Pepsi had achieved average annual growth of around 10%, as both U.S. and worldwide CSD consumption consistently rose. However, starting in the late 1990s, U.S. CSD consumption started to decline and new non-sparkling beverages become popular, threatening to alter the companies' brand, bottling, and pricing strategies. The case considers what has to be done for Coke and Pepsi to ensure sustainable growth and profitability. A rewritten version of an earlier case.

Keywords: Profit; Growth and Development Strategy; Industry Structures; Competitive Strategy; Food and Beverage Industry; United States;

When launched, Coca-Cola's two key ingredients were cocaine (from the coca leaf) and caffeine from the kola nut. Pepsi was named after the digestive enzyme pepsin used in the original recipe, which also included kola nuts, sugar and vanilla. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola recipes are now trade secrets.

Coca-Cola famously changed its recipe in 1985 which prompted an outcry. Six months later, the original recipe was reinstated as the company’s flagship brand.


The rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi is legendary and for more than a century, they have been competing for the lion’s share of the world’s beverage market. Starting in the late 1990s, the two companies faced new challenges with a decline in the sale of fizzy drinks and health fears over sugary drinks. Alternative products and strategies had to be considered. 


The Coca-Cola drink was formulated in 1886 by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, who sold it at drug store fountains as a ‘potion for mental and physical disorders’. 

Pepsi-Cola was invented in 1893 in North Carolina by another pharmacist, Caleb Bradham. However, the company struggled and declared bankruptcy in 1923 and again in 1932. Business picked up during the Great Depression when Pepsi made its drink almost half the price of Coke’s.


By the 21st century, Coke relied on international markets far more than Pepsi with Coca-Cola being served in more than 200 countries worldwide and 80% of its sales coming from international markets.

Pepsi still depended on the US for roughly half its total sales, but by the early 2000s was focusing on emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Key quote

‘The warfare must be perceived as a continuing battle without blood. Without Coke, Pepsi would have a tough time being an original and lively competitor. The more successful they are, the sharper we have to be. If the Coca-Cola company didn’t exist, we’d pray for someone to invent them.’ – Roger Enrico, former CEO of Pepsi, 1996-2001

What next?

Declining sales of carbonated soft drinks, decreasing cola sales, and the rapid emergence of non-carbonated drinks appeared to be changing the game in the cola wars. Billions of dollars had been spent bringing bottling operations back under Coke’s and Pepsi’s direct control.

However, observers were asking if this was a fundamental shift in the cola wars, or just another skirmish in their 100-year rivalry. Would it be possible to boost flagging sales? How could they compete in the growing non-carbonated market?

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