Saudis are Mideast’s biggest Coke drinkers: spokesman

Coca-Cola marks 100th anniversary of its iconic curved bottle at glitzy event in Atlanta

Paul Crompton

Published: Updated:

Saudi Arabia leads the Middle East in terms of its consumption of drinks from U.S.-based soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, with Palestine not far behind, a spokesman for the firm told Al Arabiya News.

“In the Middle East, Saudi [Arabia] has the highest and Palestine is among the top,” said a regional spokesman, the same day as the company marked the 100th anniversary of its iconic curved bottle at a glitzy event in the brand’s home city of Atlanta, United States.

Amid strong sales in the Middle East, the popularity of fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sprite and 7-Up, known in the beverage industry as carbonates, has waned in traditional high-consumption markets, UK-based analysts Euromonitor noted last month.

In response, Coca-Cola has been keen to bring new products on the market to target more health-conscious consumers.

Last year, the beverage giant rolled out Fairlife, a range of “premiumized” milk with purportedly double the nutrients as the regular white stuff found on supermarket shelves – at double the price.

Around the same time, the beverage giant also introduced Coca-Cola Life, marketed as having a very similar taste to the original Coke, yet fewer calories.

Yet Gulf consumers, including Saudis, appear to have different priorities.

“GCC consumers in general are looking for innovation on packaging and products,” said the spokesman, referring to the allied Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. “There is a niche; but gradually growing interest in on high margin products such as sports drinks.”

Both Coca-Cola Life and Fairlife milk do not sell in any regional markets, despite the former being sold in several countries in North and South America, Asia and Europe. With Fairlife, there are “no plans” to launch “in the immediate [period of time]” in the Middle East, the spokesman said.

Soft drinks firms invest heavily in the conservative kingdom, where soft drink sales are believed to be more buoyant due to alcohol being prohibited. To court local consumers thirsty after long day-long fasts in the Islamic fasting period of Ramadan, drinks with a theme tailored to the revered month are regularly released each year.

Late last year, arch-rival Pepsico launched a sprawling 55,000 square meter plant in the country’s east, one of 15 such facilities in the region. During the plant’s launch, Pepsico’s chief hailed the Middle East as a “critical engine of growth” for the firm.

Two months earlier, the firm launched an “innovation center” in the neighboring UAE – its first facility in the region – to hone in on Middle Eastern tastes.

Sales of Pepsi’s products have traditionally been stronger in the region, due in part to an Arab League-imposed boycott on Coca-Cola, which began when the firm decided in 1968 to open a bottling plant in Israel. The freeze on Coke sales did not end until 1991.

In 2011, two decades after the boycott finally ended, Coca-Cola made an investment in a Saudi beverage company equaling almost $1 billion, and said they would invest $5 billion in the Middle East and North Africa over the next decade.

In the Palestinian territories, Coca Cola bottling plant known as the National Beverage Company (NBC), appears to be winning its uphill struggle to produce the iconic curved bottles that have now been in circulation for 100 years.

The 17-year-old Palestinian company boasts $100 million in revenues, an 86 percent share in the local fizzy drinks market, and 400 employees in an area known for sky-high unemployment.

Read: Palestinian Coke bottler boasts success despite daily struggles

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