Pepsi in Canada: highlights of the first 75 years

Seventy-five years' worth of milestones in Pepsi's history in Canada.

Pepsi-Cola Company of Canada establishes its headquarters and first production facility in a small building in Montreal, which at that time was the country’s largest city and business centre. The first bottle of Pepsi-Cola comes off the line on June 12.

1935 – 1939
Pepsi develops a network of local and regional franchised bottlers to facilitate national distribution in Canada. By 1939, Pepsi-Cola has attracted 90 bottlers and is bottled in every province.

The end of Prohibition north of the border opens up new opportunities. Bottlers are encouraged to recommend Pepsi-Cola as a mix with rum, whiskey and gin.

The Canadian Cola War begins. Coca-Cola of Canada files a lawsuit claiming that the name Pepsi-Cola is an infringement of Coke’s trademark. Pepsi’s response was to find evidence that ‘cola’ was a generic term well within the public domain.

The Federal Court finds Pepsi at fault. Coke’s lawyers immediately send cease and desist letters to all Pepsi bottlers. Pepsi launches a Supreme Court appeal so bottlers can continue doing business while awaiting the result.

Pepsi-Cola opens its second Montreal plant. It’s a major expansion for the company and a showcase for its new international division.

Pepsi wins the appeal. Coke takes the fight to the Privy Council, which three years later finds in favour of Pepsi-Cola. This decision settles the Canadian dispute and prevents similar action in other countries. Pepsi is now ready for international expansion under its new export department.

The first musical commercial hits the airwaves. An instant pop hit, ‘Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot’ is played on jukeboxes, in concerts and at ball games.

1939 – 1947
Pepsi joins the war effort through its company magazine, Pepsi-Cola World, gift boxes for the troops and its Voice Records program. The Voice Record, a small white disc carrying the Pepsi logo, enables servicemen to record messages to send home, along with a letter on
Pepsi stationery.

Rationing and shortages lead to innovation. Hot Pepsi with lemon is touted as a ready-sweetened coffee and tea substitute, and Pepsi-Cola, ‘the temperate drink,’ is advertised as an alternative to alcoholic beverages.

The first manufacturer in Canada to use skywriting for promotion, Pepsi delights lunchtime crowds from Winnipeg to Montreal.

Pepsi creates two popular cartoon characters, Pete and Pop, for its print and in-store advertising.

The first-ever ‘Pepsi Taste Test’ is held in Montreal, kicking off the switch in advertising strategies from focusing on economy to product quality. Pepsi also begins using a new medium, billboards.

1950 – 1958
Consumers interest shifts from taste to image and luxury, so Pepsi is repackaged in a distinctive modern swirl bottle appealing to elegant hostesses and youth.

Pepsi responds to changing consumer attitudes by reducing the level of sugar in Pepsi and creating a ‘Light Refreshment’ tagline that appeals to customers’ healthy and sophisticated self-image.

Pepsi-Cola launches its first ‘Under the Cap’ promotion in Canada.

Pepsi’s image advertising target broadens from ‘sophisticates’ to ‘carefree sociables’ with ‘The Refreshment of Friendship’ and invites consumers to ‘Make Friends with Pepsi.’

Pepsi stuns the industry with the introduction of a 10-ounce swirl bottle. It takes the competition more than five years to move from the standard six-ounce bottle.

Ted Fisher, Pepsi’s Canadian ad manager, drops a bombshell on bottlers when he advises them to move ad dollars from traditional forms of local advertising into television in order to increase sales.

The growing baby boom is targeted with a change from ‘Now It’s Pepsi for Those Who Think Young’ to ‘Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation.’

Pepsi’s product line expands to include its first new drink, Teem. Patio Orange was the second new product.

The launch of Patio Diet Cola, the company’s first diet drink, is quickly followed by Diet Pepsi.

The U.S. federal government bans the use of cyclamate and all diet drinks are pulled from shelves. The search for an alternate sweetener begins.

The Pepsi Generation enters the 1970s with a new slogan, ‘You’ve Got a Lot to Live and Pepsi’s Got a Lot to Give.’

The Canadian government adopts metrication, prompting packaging changes. With Toronto quickly becoming Canada’s business centre, Pepsi moves its head office from Montreal to Bay Street.

The ‘Pepsi Challenge’ comes to Canada. The company adopts the slogan, ‘More and more every day, everywhere Canadians are discovering the Great Taste of Pepsi.’ In Quebec, René Simard becomes the brand’s spokesperson.

The Canadian government bans the use of saccharin. Fructose is substituted in Diet Pepsi, and an ad campaign asserts, ‘Bet You Won’t Taste the Difference.’

Pepsi’s market share increases from 14% to 22% thanks to the ‘Challenge,’ and the invitation to ‘Taste the Winning Taste.’ As Pepsi continues to convert Coke drinkers, the ‘Look Who’s Drinking Pepsi Now!’ campaign is backed by hard facts and research.

Pepsi counters the economic woes of the ‘Pepsi Generation’ with ads featuring upbeat performers such as Michael Jackson and Canadians Rough Trade, Willie English and Spa Romance.

A consolidation of franchise-owned bottling operations (FOBOs) begins, culminating in 1990 when Pepsi-Cola Canada acquires a number of them.

Pepsi-Cola Canada pioneers the use of aspartame in diet beverages, two years before the U.S. parent co.

Diet Pepsi is introduced, as well as Pepsi Free, for consumers concerned about the effects of caffeine.

Pepsi’s ‘The Choice of a New Generation’ campaign performs well, but research shows it’s not resonating with consumers in Quebec. A campaign unique to the province starring well-known Quebec comedian Claude Meunier launches. Growth in sales and market share quickly follows.

Purchase, NY.-based PepsiCo Inc. acquires the 7Up brand from Philip Morris worldwide (excluding the U.S.), gaining the popular lemon-lime carbonated soft drink position in Canada and boosting the company to its market-leader position in retail.

The Diet Pepsi Drive Train Tour, a cross-country train trip featuring Canadian musicians performing across Canada, starts. The branded train is greeted by thousands of people, and the gigs were aired on MuchMusic.

The Pepsi campaign featuring Quebec comedian Claude Meunier wins the CASSIES Grand Prix award.

Pepsi spins the bottling business into The Pepsi Bottling Group in 1999.

Diet Pepsi launches its ‘Forever Young’ campaign.

Quaker Tropicana Gatorade (QTG) Canada forms.

Diet Pepsi ‘Forever Young’ wins the CASSIES Grand Prix.

Meunier moves to Diet Pepsi brand ads.

QTG Canada merges with the Pepsi-Cola Canada beverage business to form the Pepsi-QTG Canada division.

Diet Pepsi’s ‘Forever Young’ wins CASSIES Sustained Success Gold for performance from 2002-2007.

The Canadian businesses are reorganized to form PepsiCo Beverages Canada.

PepsiCo Beverages Canada announces its plan to acquire all of the outstanding shares of The Pepsi Bottling Group in Canada. Currently 88% of Canadian sales of Pepsi beverages flow through The Pepsi Bottling Group and 12% via 13 remaining FOBOs.

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The Cola Wars – the Cherry Pepsi coup

Pepsi in Quebec – deep roots