Virgin Cola

Sir Richard Branson took on Pepsi and Coca-cola in the 90s, by launching Virgin Cola.

Virgin Cola launched in the UK in 1994, amid huge publicity. Following a modest start in Britain, in 1998 Branson took his cola brand to the US, prompting Coca-Cola to double its advertising and promotion budget.

Virgin Cola enjoyed high-profile celebrity endorsements. When the 500ml bottles launched, they were marketed as “The Pammy”, as their curves were designed to resemble Pamela Anderson who was at the height of her popularity in the UK and USA at the time.

But despite some initial success, it quickly became clear that Virgin Cola was struggling to compete with its more established rivals. A major reason Virgin Cola found it difficult to compete in the UK was problems with distribution. After the furore of the launch had died down, the label struggled to gain 3% of the UK market and has never made a profit.

By 1999, it had become clear that Virgin’s plans to become a major player in the cola market on both sides of the Atlantic were not going well. That year, Virgin Cola had sales of £28.6 million in the UK, compared with Coca-Cola’s £620.4 million.

In Britain, Virgin Cola was gradually dropped by supermarkets and smaller chains, leaving its presence largely confined to Asda stores, who only stocked it in two litre bottles. It maintained a limited presence in independent newsagents, and continued to be sold on Virgin trains and airlines, but by 2005 advertising was virtually non-existent and Branson had given up on his dreams of rivalling cola’s ‘big two’ companies.

But what did Virgin Cola actually taste like? Was it any different, better, or worse than Pepsi?

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