Branson takes on Coca-Cola in US

In a career not lacking for audacious gambles, Richard Branson is about to make one of his biggest. The daredevil entrepreneur who turned Virgin Group into Britain's biggest private company will introduce his Virgin Cola in the US this spring, taking on Coca-Cola in its home territory.

Typical for a man who crossed the Pacific in a hot-air balloon and still longs to pilot one around the world, Mr Branson has inflated ambitions for the US launch of Virgin Cola, which was started in Britain just three years ago.

"We'll be launching it in different cities simultaneously and travelling around America to make absolutely certain it gets the best start it can, with the hope of driving Coke out of the States," he said.

It is a tall order. Mr Branson said Virgin Cola will start with just a $25m (pounds 15m) marketing budget to challenge Coke, which earned $1bn in the third quarter alone. The nationwide launch will come in either March or April, following Philadelphia-area test marketing that began last year.

Leaving aside the sheer size of Coke and PepsiCo, which together control almost three-quarters of the $53bn US soft- drink market, analysts question whether the Virgin brand can play as well in America as it has elsewhere.

Its appeal in Britain stems largely from Mr Branson's enormous personal popularity - he was the hands-down winner in a survey asking Londoners to name their choice for mayor - and his reputation as a free spirit in a nation known for its conformity.

In the US, where the remarkable thing has been the ubiquity of unconventional billionaires from Ted Turner to Howard Hughes, Mr Branson's appeal may not be readily apparent.

"Virgin and Branson stand for an awful lot in the UK; he has a hold on the British psyche," said Chris Wood, the chairman of CLK, a London-based brand development firm. "I don't think the Virgin brand is terribly well- known or has massive pull in the States."

Industry analysts, too, warn that success in the US soft drinks market depends even more on the strength of the bottling network rather than the strength of the brand. Even Cadbury's Dr Pepper/Seven-Up unit, lacking a strong system, has been squeezed by Coke and Pepsi.

"Richard has always set his goals high, and I applaud him for that, but the US market is very different," said Skip Carpenter of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. "It's going to be extremely challenging and highly unlikely for a new entrant like Virgin to achieve those kinds of goals."

He estimated that Coke's advertising budget behind a single soft drink - the Surge brand introduced this year to challenge Pepsi's Mountain Dew - was $100m.

So far, Virgin Cola has not made more than a dent in Coke and Pepsi in Britain, where it is sold through a joint venture with Canada's Cott, a maker of own-label soft drinks for grocery stores.

It is rarely available in UK restaurants or cinemas - aside from Virgin's own cinema chain - and had only a 4.5 per cent share of the take-home cola market in October, according to AC Nielsen research.

While the figure rose from 3.3 per cent in October last year, rivals contend that the gains came largely against own-label brands. Coke still has about 50 per cent of the cola market, while Pepsi has about 20 per cent.

Mr Branson said he was not concerned and that he expected it to take years - even decades - to unseat Coke.

Copyright: IOS & Bloomberg

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
VIDEO
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Computer Science)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Compute...

C#.NET Delphi SQL Developer (C#,DELPHI,SQL)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET D...

VB.NET SQL Junior-Mid Level Developer (VB.NET,SQL,Excellent com

£25000 - £35000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET S...

Trade Support, Application Support, Operations Analyst, CRM MS

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Harrington Starr: Trade Suppor...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players