Manufacturers of cocoa beverages appeared to be hard pressed for to refocus their route to market strategies in the face of growing uncertainty of consumers' loyalty.
Rising prices of the products, inflationary pressure on consumers' purchasing power as well as increasing demand for value in brand promises may have moved manufacturers in this direction.
Some of the manufacturers have moved into using the 3-in-1 (cocoa, sugar and milk) infusion to penetrate the market, a new trend manufacturers' claim to be saving consumers the hassles of looking for the ingredients separately before having their tea.
The major cocoa beverage brands in the market involved in this hustle include Bournvita from the production line of Cadbury Nigeria Plc, Milo, manufactured by Nestle Nigeria Plc, Ovaltine, produced by Twining Nigeria, Cowbell Choco, manufactured by Promasidor Nigeria Limited, Horlicks, produced by Glaxosmithkline Consumer Plc and Oluji pure cocoa powder, a local competitor in the market.
Of the above number, the battle for market share has reduced the contenders to four, of which three are positioned as mass market brands, thereby controlling the market. The three brands are, Bournvita, Milo and Ovaltine.
However, competition became heightened in the mass market with the entrant of locally produced cocoa beverages some of which are without known names, basically consumed in the northern part of Nigeria.
The industry leaders also noted that the rise in urban population and increase in market size in recent years have contributed to the boost in consumption of cocoa beverage.
The beverage companies have used the direct marketing tactics to reach their target market, while devising innovative packaging and offering additional sachet pack to drive patronage of bigger sized product packs. Also unrelated products such as exercise books and other consolation prizes, have been attached to some packs of the cocoa products.
Price is no longer a determinant of patronage as competition has narrowed price gaps. Consumers now make choices based on taste, smoothness and ability to dissolve easily in both cold and hot water.
However, consumers have their preferences for the three brands. Some consumers prefer the brands for their smell, smoothness, cranky nature and abundant milk input. Vanguard Companies and Markets(C&M) findings show that of the number of consumers who reacted to questions on their preferences of the brands, majority signified their preference for Milo, followed by Ovaltine, while Bournvita was not on top of mind recall.
Findings by C&M also revealed that the preference for Milo is as a result of its smoothness, rich taste and dissolvability in hot and cold water as well as bonding through sports.
What has also endeared consumers to Milo is the square shaped choco milo, eaten or licked by both children and adults.
For Ovaltine, consumers were of the view that the brand has the habit of not bonding with consumers, a situation that has made consumers not to easily remember it when it comes to brand choice.
According to some consumers what has helped it in the market is its smoothness, taste and great smell as well as dissolvability both in cold and hot water.
A wholesaler, Mr. Segun Olawale of L&K Stores, located at hostel bus-stop, Egbe, Ikotun, Lagos, said: "Due to different taste bud and choice of consumers, Milo is most demanded than Ovaltine and Bournvita.
At Ikotun market, Lagos, a wholesaler, Madam Chidinma, said: "Milo is the most demanded and preferred due to its high quality. My customers prefer Milo due to its sweet taste and texture, I felt the texture myself and noticed it is smooth."
According to most of the retailers who spoke to C&M, their sales of beverages depends on consumers' choices, where some prefer Milo while some others go for Bournvita, but Milo, according to them, sells most.