COCA-COLA MAKES BIG MOVE INTO INDIAN MARKET

COCA-COLA MAKES BIG MOVE INTO INDIAN MARKET

India's largest soft drink maker, Parle Exports Ltd., is transferring the rights of its products to U.S. soft drink giant Coca-Cola Co. in what it describes as a "strategic alliance."

Parle controls as much as 60 percent of the Indian soft drink market. Its range of brands is worth 12 billion rupees (US$390 million).The alliance will give Coke use of the national production and distribution network laid by Parle.

Though not all details were made public, sources said it gives Coca-Cola the right to withdraw popular Parle brands from the market in favor of its own.

The link will give Coke considerable leverage when it begins production early next summer over arch-rival PepsiCo Inc., which is in its third year of operation here.

Parle and Coke said they also will set up a joint venture for investment in bottling operations. This company will upgrade Parle's existing production and bottling facilities.

Ironically, it was Ramesh Chauhan, Parle's chairman, who lobbied hard in 1977 to kick Coke out of India. At the time the government demanded certain trade secrets Coke felt unable to divulge, and it quit.

"The wheel has turned full circle for Mr. Chauhan," commented an industry watcher.

Mr. Chauhan also fought in vain to prevent the entry of Pepsi.

Pepsi Foods Ltd., the local joint venture, has been preparing for the battle with Coke by restructuring and other moves.

It was originally a joint venture between PepsiCo, the Voltas Ltd. unit of the Tata conglomerate, and Punjab Agro Industries Corp. Pepsi Foods has bought out Voltas' share and plans to do the same to Punjab Agro's equity so that it controls 100 percent.