I fancy if you were to stop the average man or woman in the street and confront them with the names Coca-Cola and Pepsi, apart from commenting that the two mighty American soft drink manufacturers have an endless appetite for marketing wars and that both have successful Irish operations, not a great deal more would be known.
It's probable that few would realise that PepsiCo is not, as some might think, simply stuck in second place in the Cola Wars, but is in fact a mighty and fantastically energetic enterprise with no less than 20 world brands boasting annual sales of more than $1bn. Neither would it be generally known that it once owned Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken. In addition it recently snapped up a Russian beverage company with no fewer than 31,000 employees.
However, I suppose for most people PepsiCo's famous soft drink will always mask its great appetite for empire building. The company goes back to 1893 when a chemist in North Carolina, Caleb Bradham, invented the drink. Originally known as 'Brad's Drink' it was later rename Pepsi Cola after Pepsin and Kola nuts used in the recipe. In the early years, Pepsi had its corporate ups and downs. It was bankrupt in 1923 and recovered to be a star in the stock market bubble that preceded the Wall Street crash in 1929. By 1932 it had gone bust again.
It was back trading under its old name by the 1940s and in 1965 the company merged with Fritolay to become PepsiCo. The late 70s saw Pepsi's rapid expansion into fast food. The Pepsi restaurant division was spun it off as a public company, called Tricon, later renamed Yum Brands.
By the 1990s, the exit from peripheral businesses was completed and the company reverted to snacks and beverages. It acquired Tropicana Juices, bringing the Cola Wars to the breakfast table, as Coca-Cola owned Minute Maid Juices. One year later it merged its US bottling operation, followed by the acquisition of Quaker Oats for $13bn. This brought such brands as the Gatorade sports drink.
Today, Pepsi operates as a food and beverage company worldwide, marketing a range of branded goods in 200 countries. The highly profitable snacks business also has a stable of mega brands such as Doritos, Lays, Cheetos and Walkers.
One of Pepsi's largest markets outside the USA is Russia. The relationship goes back to the communist era when the company and the Soviets set up a barter agreement, Pepsi Cola for Stolichnaya vodka. Recently, Pepsi acquired the leading Russian beverage company Wimm-Bill-Dann and with it 31,000 employees and 40 plants.
PepsiCo sales in 2012 hit $65bn, down slightly on 2011 but up over 10pc on its 2010 results. Operating profits came to $9bn with respectable margins of 14pc. The Americas account for 70pc of all group sales and operating profits. Food sales in the Americas were worth $23bn, followed by beverage sales of $21.7bn. European sales of both are $13bn. Interestingly, Europe is the only area showing an increase in operating profits (10pc).
The company's market value is $125bn with a P/E ratio of 18. The share a price is $82, below its recent (and all time) record high of $87 but almost double its 2009 share price. As with most large companies examined in this column during the past year, PepsiCo has a cost-reduction programme, targeting savings of $3bn as well as a share buy-back programme.
The company boasts an impressive 28pc return on equity, and their shares would grace any portfolio. However, investors will watch the results of the strategic review of the US beverage business expected in the first quarter of 2014.
NOTHING PUBLISHED IN THIS SECTION SHOULD BE TAKEN AS A RECOMMENDATION, EITHER IMPLICIT OR EXPLICIT, TO BUY OR SELL ANY OF THE SHARES MENTIONED