The X Prize Foundation created the Ansari X Prize to quicken the pace of advances made in spaceflight technology. Its goal was to give away $10 million to the first entity that successfully completed a couple of suborbital space trips in a relatively short amount of time.
SpaceShipOne -- a flight vehicle backed by Paul Allen and his Mojave Aerospace Ventures -- won the prize. As one might imagine, commercial spinoffs followed. Billionaire Richard Branson immediately hopped aboard to explore the possibilities of monetizing this next consumer frontier. And now we have a soda company tying one of its important brands to a ticket-to-space promotion. Hey, it beats the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket.
I give high marks to the marketers who devised this scheme to promote the new Diet 7 Up recipe. In fact, utilizing the iconic wealth of famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin to lend an aura of excitement is very smart thinking. The problem I see here is the fact that space travel is probably an esoteric idea at best in the public mindset.
If Cadbury Schweppes were handing out cash -- say, a million-dollar grand prize -- it would be sure to garner a lot of players. But will people rush out to win a voyage that Cadbury admits might not take place until almost 2010? I highly question this aspect of the initiative. And I'll tell you something else: Personally, I'm not pining for a suborbital flight. I love the concept of space travel and cannot wait until we land on Mars, but I'm no astronaut. I'd be scared to death. That's just me, of course, but how many others are thinking the same thing? Plus, how much preparation does such a flight require? Medical requirements, how stringent are they? At least a million dollars applies to everybody (or, wait -- how about a billion dollars, remember that one?).
Nevertheless, the press release caught my eye, and I humorously mused to myself how far a company is willing to take the cola wars -- all the way to space! Coca-Cola
Getting back to Earth for a moment, let's look at the stocks. New investors to this sector might find choosing between Cadbury Schweppes, Coke, and Pepsi a bit perplexing if based on a price-to-earnings perspective -- all are pretty much trading on par with each other, at about 23. A look at a 10-year chart shows that Cadbury Schweppes has more than held its ground with the two rivals. And although I am partial to Coca-Cola shares (I have been a long-term owner), its shares are lagging. Perhaps the fact that both Pepsi and Cadbury Schweppes are more than just beverage producers (the former operates Frito Lay, while the latter is also a confectioner) might explain the divergence.
Still, I am happy with Coca-Cola's brand. In light of its strong profit margins (it beats Cadbury Schweppes on this point, as does PepsiCo) and healthy cash flow, Coke makes a reasonable holding for the future.
Any one of the three companies will probably make an individual investor money over time, but further diligence on the part of the reader is requisite. To help things along, check out Rich Duprey's recent article about Cadbury Schweppes's status.
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