Coke's North American sales rise fuels market share gains over Pepsi

(Reuters) - Coca-Cola Co KO.N topped profit and revenue estimates for the third quarter on a 3 percent rise in North American sales, gaining market share over arch rival PepsiCo Inc PEP.N as it sold more Sprite, teas and coffees.

FILE PHOTO - A detail of a can of Coca-Cola is seen in London, Britain March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

Over the course of several years, both companies have shifted their strategy, focusing on selling low-calorie versions of their colas and buying healthier beverage brands, as consumers move away from sugary sodas.

But Coke seems to be winning the so-called cola-wars by adopting a more aggressive approach to selling juices, teas and vitamin water and taking the lead on franchising its bottling operations to cut costs.

“Coca-Cola is clearly gaining share as evidenced by the very wide performance gap between itself and PepsiCo,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Nik Modi wrote in a note.

The company had a 22 percent share of the North American non-alcoholic drinks market last year, ahead of PepsiCo’s 19 percent, according to Euromonitor data.

In the third quarter, Coca-Cola’s profit rose 38 percent to $1.45 billion and North America beverage sales rose to $2.75 billion.

In contrast, PepsiCo reported a drop in quarterly beverage sales in North America for the first time in two years, hit by weak demand for Gatorade and marketing missteps.

Coca-Cola has also reined in costs by refranchising its bottling operations - a move has helped it eliminate costs of operating a low-margin business, and given it a more predictable revenue stream.

General and selling expenses were down 20 percent in the third quarter, while cost of goods sold fell 18 percent.

Recent acquisitions of non-soda beverages such as salty mineral water brand Topo Chico, Honest Tea and Unilever's UNc.AS AdeS soy-based beverages have increased the options Coca-Cola can offer to consumers.

Excluding items, the company earned a profit of 50 cents per share, beating the average analyst estimate by a cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue fell 14.6 percent to $9.08 billion due to the refranchising, but beat the average estimate of $8.72 billion.

Coca-Cola’s shares, up 11 percent this year, were largely flat on Wednesday.

Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty