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Musings on China's soft drink prices - Clay Wilson

Commentators have said for years that China is a sleeping giant, needing only to wake up to assert its power n power that could challenge even American might.

I think I hear the alarm clock ringing, and it sounds like a soft drink jingle.

Various Internet news outlets reported last week that China has made its first-ever shipment of a soft drink to the United States.

The Associated Press and Reuters articles I read made it sound as if the Hangzhou Wahaha Group intends to enter the U.S. Cola Wars with full force. The stories used phrases like "try to take on Coca-Cola and Pepsi on their home turf" and "slug it out with giants PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co."

The company's own officials, as quoted closer to their home, sounded more modest.

China Economic Net quoted a Wahaha's spokesman as saying, "We hope to introduce Future Cola as a unique Chinese soda brand to U.S. consumers. We are proud that our products will be put on the shelves ? in the backyard of these two beverage giants."

Certainly, the company's shipment could only be regarded as a warning shot. Wahaha is sending 14,200 cases n 170,400 bottles n of its "Future Cola" to Los Angeles and New York.

According to reports from U.S. news sources, Coca Cola sells about 5.2 million cases of Coke Classic here each day.

Still, surely Wahaha's move is a bold incursion. As if it's not enough that everything from our toasters to our trinkets are "Made In China," now our soft drinks might be, too.

I wanted to know what Future Cola might be like, but I couldn't locate an Internet site for Wahaha. However, the Canadian Press apparently found it (I guess they have more investigative resources than we do).

CP quotes Wahaha's Web site as saying, "The high content of carbon dioxide and the fine taste has won Chinese people's hearts."

Perhaps that is an awkward English translation, because I don't think I've ever heard of a cola marketed on the virtue of its "high content of carbon dioxide." Then again, in China Future Cola is marketed as "Extreme Cola" n so maybe the Chinese dig high carbon dioxide content.

In the U.S. press, mystery seems to shroud the proposed selling price of Future Cola. Reuters said a Wahaha spokesperson declined to say what the price would be, although the article noted that a 20-ounce bottle of Extreme Cola sells for 24 U.S. cents in China.

But the spokesman quoted by the Canadian Press said Future Cola would sell for the same price as Coke and Pepsi.

Either way, if Americans take to Chinese cola the way they've taken to everything else Chinese-made, Wahaha n whose name Reuters says translates to "laughing baby" n may be laughing all the way to the bank.

Then again, maybe I'm overreacting. After all, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo own eight of the 10 top soft drink brands in the $64 billion U.S. market, says Reuters. And even in China, the two U.S. giants still overshadow the field.

"It is a good start for Future Cola to go out of China," an official with the China Soft Drink Industry Association said in China Economic Net. "But it is too early to predict its future in the US market where Coca-Cola and PepsiCo dominate."

Dang straight. If the Chinese want to get me to drink one of their colas, they'll have to pry it into my cold, dead hand.

The mug I drink out of may be made in China, but the Coke in it's gonna come from the good old U.S. of A.

Clay Wilson, a true cola patriot, is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.