Diet Coke Unseats Pepsi As #2 Cola Brand

Pepsi has spent decades throwing stones at Coke from its position in second place among the fizzy beverage brands. And now Pepsi will need to toss those stones even farther as the brand has given up its spot to Diet Coke and slipped to third on the list.

According to 2010 sales data published in Beverage Digest, Coke and Diet Coke maintained steady market shares of 17% and 9.9% respectively, but Pepsi’s market share slipped .4% to 9.5%.

At last weekend’s SXSW Interactive festival, where PepsiCo handed out free bottles of Pepsi Max, company execs kept going on about the success of its Pepsi Refresh program, which gave out $20 million in grants to various groups. But given the dip in sales, some question the company’s decision to focus on that program over traditional advertising.

“In the cola wars, the Refresh Project by itself isn’t enough to market Pepsi’s cola brands,” the editor and publisher of Beverage Digest tells Ad Age. “They need, in addition, more product-oriented advertising and marketing. I think that the 2010 results are probably a wake-up call for Pepsi.”

A rep for Pepsi named — no bull — Joe Jacuzzi tries to see the glass as half-full of fizzy, caramel-colored sugar water:

I don’t think that we’d view this as a blow… We’re looking at our total position. Consumers want a wide range of products for a wide range of occasions. And we’re in a great position to satisfy them with that. Today we’re fighting a totally different battle on a much bigger battlefield than just colas, though we are completely committed to carbonated soft drinks.

PepsiCo remained the number two cola company behind Coca-Cola, though its market share slipped a little (29.9% to 29.3%) while Coca-Cola saw a very slight uptick (41.9% to 42%). Dr. Pepper Snapple was a distant third with only 16.7% of the market.

Also of interest in the Beverage Digest report is the rapid growth of Coke Zero. The diet drink just missed out on the top 10 brand list but its 17.5% year over year growth was three times the growth of the fastest growing brand on the top 10 list (Diet Mountain Dew, with 5.8%).

Pepsi lovers — Is there anything the brand can do to scale back up the list?

Diet Coke Blasts Past Pepsi [Ad Age]
Special Issue: Latest Top-10 CSD Companies and Brands [Beverage Digest (PDF)]