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Rite Foods’ battle to unseat a global giant

Pascal Oparada

Rite Foods, makers of Bigi soft drink variants and Fearless energy drink is fighting the battle of its life – the one in which if it wins, will etch its brand’s name on the annals of conglomerates that have successfully brought down a giant, and if it loses, will go into eternal ignominy.

Failure is not an option for a brand that has successfully seeped into the subconsciousness of soft drink consumers in Nigeria.

By all means, Rite Foods is no small player in the soft drink segment in the Nigerian market. It has dubbed itself Naija’s Favourite.

But it is nowhere near global giants like Coca-Cola, makers of popular and ubiquitous soft drinks and 7Up Bottling Company with popular variants.

Apart from its well-known soft drink variants, Rite Foods in 2017 launched a market leader in the energy segment – Fearless.

Consumers who spoke with The Nigerian Xpress said they preferred the brand to others because of its smoothness and availability, but pointed out that they would easily switch to other ones by well-known brands because Rite Foods is relatively new in Nigeria.

Our Data Analytics Unit compared the approval ratings of the four most popular energy drinks in Nigeria –Fearless, Predator, Monster and Lucozade Boost, using technology and found that Rite Foods’ Fearless Energy Drink has a lot of catching up to do.

In the last three months, Fearless energy drink has been trounced by all the other brands and only faring well in places like Lagos and Abuja.

The energy drink market in Nigeria is worth close to $1 billion according to Euromonitor International, a London based market research firm.

In its report, the market research analysis firm had said Rite Foods is the fastest-growing player in the energy drink market in Nigeria.

The report was released almost one year ago before Rite Foods got embroiled in a legal battle with Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC).

“Rite Foods has seen by far the strongest increase in off-trade volume and value sales in energy drinks in 2020. Its Fearless brand has maintained a dynamic performance through ensuring ubiquity, good pricing and a strong route to market, and uses catchphrases to advertise the brand via social media platforms,” the report said.

However, the report said that in the southeastern part of the country, Suntory beverage is holding sway in the energy drink segment.

Suntory, makers of the Lucozade Boost and the Ribena brands, have remained the leading player in energy drinks in off-trade value terms in 2020.

The company is strongest in southeast Nigeria, where it has built a strong presence and share for its Bullet brand through competitive pricing and wide distribution.

Enter The Predator

In 2021, four years after Fearless was introduced into the Nigerian market, Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), makers of Coca Cola, introduced its own energy drink, The Predator by Monster energy drink.

“Predator Energy, the first global affordable energy drink by Monster Energy exists to ignite your hustling spirit and allows you to thrive not just survive,” Coca-Cola HBC said, announcing the birth of the energy drink.

Sensing that the competition is getting stiffer, Rite Foods launched a blistering legal attack on The Predator, accusing it of stealing its insignia, the Lion logo on its Fearless Energy drink, subtly adopted by The Predator.

It said Coca Cola has committed an infraction by using similar lion insignia on its label.

In a two-page advertorial in major newspapers in April this year, Rite Foods contended that Coca Cola intends to confuse the market by latching onto its successful brand, Fearless energy drink by using a similar image as its logo.

In the suit, No FHC/L/ CS/92/2021, the plaintiff, Rite Foods Limited, had filed a motion ex parte for an interim injunction against the defendant, NBC, restraining it from further promoting or using any sales promotion material for its Predator energy drink in a manner that infringes or passes off or that is capable of infringing or passing off as the plaintiff’s Fearless energy drink, until the interlocutory application for an injunction is determined.

The company said that the alleged infringement negates the common law of property right in the goodwill of “Fearless” energy drink and Trade Marks Act, Cap T 13, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, which offers exclusive rights to get ups and designs of products already in use by a proprietor.

Rite Foods suffered a set-back on September 29 when the court set aside its exparte order against NBC.

NBC/Monster Energy had requested the court to declare that their Predator energy drink does not pass off Rite Foods’ Fearless energy drink. However, whilst NBC/Monster Energy’s suit was pending, Rite Foods initiated another suit before Justice Aneke of the Federal High Court.

At the resumed hearing of Rite Foods’ suit, the court upheld the objection filed by NBC/Monster Energy’s counsel, Mr. Mark Mordi, and whilst suspending further hearing of Rite Foods’ case, proceeded to nullify the exparte order obtained by Rite Foods against NBC in February 2021.

The court held that there was a substantial overlap in the issues in dispute and the questions submitted for determination in both suits, adding that there was a risk that conflicting decisions would be reached in both suits and that orders made in the context of one suit could potentially affect the other, TheCable reports.

Brand analysts believe that every brand war is local, but that the fight by Rite Foods to displace a global player like Coca-Cola in Nigeria will be fraught with injuries and that Rite Foods should fight to come out unscathed.