Thums Up was introduced as a flagship brand in 1977 by a company called Parle Agro to offset the gap in the Indian cola market when Coca-Cola and Pepsi were expelled by the Indian government. Over the the next 16 years, the brand enjoyed great success, ratcheting up to over an 80% market share. In 1990, though, the Indian government okayed the reentry of the cola giants back into the market (Pepsi came first, Coke 3 years later), and rather than go head to head with the marketing machines of the big boys, the Parle group sold Thums Up to Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola reportedly considered killing the Thums Up brand to try and push regular Coke Classic, but decided instead that keeping the brand would better their chances in the battle against Pepsi. Thums Up is still the cola leader in India, with a 42% market share as of 2012. Much of the marketing focuses on making it seem like a 'grown up' drink: on the Coca-Cola India website, they state: "Thums Up is known for its strong, fizzy taste and its confident, mature and uniquely masculine attitude. This brand clearly seeks to separate the men from the boys." Marketing and history aside, what actually makes it different? Will bolder, stronger carbonation and flavor make us feel 'uniquely masculine'? Let's dig a little deeper.
I picked up some Coca-Cola Classic to compare ingredients and flavor. The ingredients listed are nearly identical with the exception that Thums Up lists sugar as its sweetener while Coke uses high fructose corn syrup, though the 'added flavors' in each soda could differ. The calorie count is just about an even 120 per 10.1 fluid ounce serving size, while the Coke contains 40 mg of sodium compared to a listed zero for Thums Up. The Thums Up label also notes that it "contains no fruit," just in case you were wondering.
The labels might seem similar, but these colas do actually have quite distinct flavor profiles. The carbonation is strong on both, but while Coke's bubbles overwhelm the cola flavor initially, the Thums Up carbonation feels more like a pleasant tingle that accentuates the flavor. Most importantly, there seems to be more complexity to the spices in the Thums Up as well. Folks on the internet speculate that the betel nut (or areca) is one of the main components that gives the Indian cola its extra kick—who knows. I also found that the Thums Up had a smoother, more enjoyable finish than standard Coke.
There's perhaps a little bit of a novelty bias here, but after tasting them side by side, I feel that Thums Up is a genuinely better tasting cola. I don't know whether the formula for Thums Up has changed since the brand was acquired by Coke, but either way, the current cola is delicious, and I will be pairing it with my next order of vindaloo.
Have you tried Thums Up? What did you think?
About the Author: Sam Hughes has toured the world with his band, making sure to try every local or novelty beverage along the way. Read some current and archived thoughts at @samhughesreview and thisiswhatidrink.blogspot.com