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the soda of the poor that makes the fight to Coca Cola

Two Peruvian brothers went from selling artisanal and illegal soda in Peru to creating a powerful company that won the fight against the North American giant in Colombia

What began as a small micro-business in the backyard of the Añaños family’s house in Ayacucho, in southern Peru, to take care of an economy disrupted by the Shining Path terrorist attacks, became in a few years a multimillionaire emporium. which managed to catch the most popular regions of the world. Colombia, where more than half of its population is poor, did not escape them.

Big Cola is the third best-selling black soft drink brand in the country after the indestructable Coca Cola and Pepsi from Postobón. The poor man’s coca cola, as they call the soda of Peruvian origin, was invented in 1986. After taking over markets in his country for more than 10 years, it began to expand, starting with Venezuela and reaching Colombia in 2007, where it became a headache for traditional brands like Coca Cola, Pepsi and Postobón. On neighborhood store shelves, a 3-liter Coke costs $ 6500 and a 3.3-liter Big Cola costs $ 4500. A difference that is representative for households that live with the day.

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This queen of the popular strata was created in the midst of the violence that Shining Path, the guerrilla led by Abimael Guzmán Reinoso, had unleashed in the Inca country. The war did not allow food or other products, such as traditional soft drinks, to reach southern Peru. The municipalities of the Alps experienced shortages. The peasants of those regions could not get their products to the cities either.

The Añaños family, made up of six brothers and their father, almost all engineers, were farmers from Ayacucho, an important Peruvian territory that was dominated by the Guzmán guerrillas. Agriculture was no longer bearing fruit. With rudimentary machinery the brothers created a fizzy drink that they called Kola Real. They packed it in beer bottles. They started selling it to their neighbors. It was a success in the midst of the despair of the country.

The Shining Path war and the control they had over those areas boosted sales of the new Kola Real. The order of the guerrillas was not to allow products to enter Ayacucho that did not pay them a percentage. Traditional sodas did not reach the south of the country. The Añaños brothers filled the empty shelves of those regions with a soda that little by little became more and more popular. And its price was always below the big brands that when they returned they found a product that led to a large number of customers. The company that owns this brand was Aje group.

Big Cola has always been focused on the poorest households. That is your market. After Venezuela, the Aje group company began to conquer Latin America and Central America. Today it is in Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Bolivia, Honduras. Big Cola is the queen of soft drinks in Indonesia, where it arrived in 2000. There it ranks first in sales. It’s already in 12 countries, including India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

It entered Colombia in 2007. It set up a production factory in Funza, from where it still ships throughout the country. His strategy to take over the market of the most humble was to put aside the large supermarkets and focus the distribution on the small neighborhood stores, where the popular strata who find it very expensive to buy a Coca Cola market. Juan Pablo Congote, ‘country manager’ of AJE Group in Colombia, confirms this strategy. The businessman says that the secret of the company is to deliver quality drinks at low cost.

When Big Cola entered Mexico, one of the countries that consumes the most soda on the continent, after the United States, Fensa, the owner of Coca-Cola reacted and tried by all means to overthrow the Peruvian company that had already installed six plants in the country. Coca-Cola sued for plagiarism, but Big Cola did not stop the giant that sought to destroy it. The Peruvian company Ajegroup, owner of Big Cola, also sued Femsa for unfair competition and monopoly practices. After several years of legal dispute, Big Cola defeated Femsa on the Mexican stage. Coca-Cola had to indemnify the Peruvian company with USD $ 15 million.

The arrival of Big Cola in Colombia with its slogan “international quality at a fair price” made Pepsi tremble, second only to Coca Cola. Postobón reacted by lowering its prices, but could not match them with those that the Peruvian put on the market. Coca Cola stayed on prices but invested much more in advertising. According to market statistics, Big Cola took 25% of the customers in the lowly strata and 9% of the soda sales in the country. Today, around the world this company sells about 3,000 million liters a year, which represents profits of more than USD700 million each year.

The good response that Big Cola gave the company in Colombia opened the door to more AjeGrup products: Behind the black soda came the Cifrut juices and then Sporade (a good copy of Gatorade), Cool Tea, the Sky and Volt water, which is a very cheap Red Bull.

In popular sectors, price is what matters most when buying a product. The Peruvian company understood this, and in Colombia, unlike its rivals Coca Cola and Pepsi, which spend a lot of money on advertising, its penetration of poor households was the strategy that has made it one of the most powerful soft drink companies in the world.

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