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Pepsi rules in Rogue Valley

The way Pepsi sells in Southern Oregon, you'd think that spunky, curly-haired girl in the Pepsi ads grew up here.

Pepsi's been winning the Rogue Valley's cola wars for some time. In contrast to Coke's edge in the nation and the world, Pepsi outsells Coke in all of Oregon.

Observers say credit for Southern Oregon's embrace of the joy of cola probably belongs to Ken Pastega and his company's 100 employees.

Pastega, 53, is president and owner of Medford Pepsi, an independent bottler and distributor of Pepsi products.

Pepsi definitely dominates here, says Mike Griffin, manager of Albertson's Central Point store. He says Pepsi products outsell Coca-Cola's between 4-to-1 and 5-to-1 at his store. If you can attribute it to anything, it's the job they do.

They've really worked hard at it, agrees Terry Allphin, manager of Medford's Food 4 Less store. Pepsi has worked real hard in this area to put their name out there.

While some consumers buy whichever brand is on sale, Allphin says Pepsi is the popular choice when the prices are close.

Pastega won't be specific, but admits his company has a significant market-share edge over our competitor, as he regularly refers to Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, a large but independent bottler for Coke products in the Rogue Valley market, declined to say much about the competition.

We feel like we are very competitive, says spokesman Bob Phillips, noting that Pepsi's edge in grocery-store sales is only 1.25-to-1.

Neither company will reveal specific market share data.

Three years ago, a local Coke official admitted that Pepsi had the edge locally and statewide, outselling Coke 2-to-1. Coke has about 33 employees in Southern Oregon, about a third of Pepsi's work force.

courtesy of sorts.

Nationally, Coke is the clear leader in the cola wars. In 1999, Coke controlled 44.1 percent of the market to Pepsi's 31 percent, according to Beverage Marketing Company. That's one reason Pepsi tried to put the spotlight on the cola wars earlier this month by bringing back the Pepsi Challenge taste tests.

Pepsi's corporate officials have taken notice of the local edge: Medford Pepsi was named the company's bottler of the year in 1999, beating out about 300 bottlers in North America.

It's like winning a Grammy, says Pastega. He says the award was surprising since there are many larger bottlers including some that spill more than we sell.

Medford Pepsi dates back to the 1940s, when it was founded by the Snider family. The Pastega family bought it in 1986.

In the last 10 years, the base of customers (grocery and convenience stores, vending machines, restaurants, etc.) the company serves each week has doubled and now tops 3,000.

It's not a short-term process, it's a long-term process, Pastega says of his company's success. We devote a lot of time developing our brands. That market share never happens overnight.

The company has long bottled its product at a plant in White City, and opened a new 50,000-square-foot distribution complex on Airport Way in November 1998.

In addition to Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, it distributes Mountain Dew, Mug Root Bear, Dr. Pepper, Orange Slice, 7-Up and Squirt as well as Aquafina and Earth H20 bottled water and Pepsi's new line of fruit juices, Fruit Works. It also distributes All-Sport and Starbucks' bottled drinks.

Right off, Pastega noticed that the area's per-capita cola consumption was lower than average. He attributes that to the slightly older population, which is why the company has expanded the beverages it offers.

We sell a ton of water, he notes.

Pastega's family owns Pepsi operations in five Oregon counties: Jackson, Josephine, Tillamook, Benton and Linn. He lives in Corvallis but travels to Medford twice a week.

Pepsi leads Coke in the Rogue Valley cola wars, and industry watchers say a big reason is the efforts of Ken Pastega and his company, Medford Pepsi. - Photo by Jim Craven