NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Mecca Cola is not "the real thing" as defined by Coca-Cola, but in just six months it's already made the big American multinational sit up and take notice.
French Tunisian entrepreneur Tawfik Mathlouthi launched the controversial cola brand last year in November to rival Coke, mainly in Europe and the Middle East.
But the brand, marketed as an anti-American political statement, appears to be cashing in on a campaign to boycott American brands in those parts of the world.
|Mecca Cola's tagline: "No more drinking stupid. Drink with commitment!" (www.meccacola.com)
"We're asking Arabs all over the world to boycott American products," Mathlouthi told CNN/Money from Paris, adding that Mecca Cola was sponsoring an anti-war march over the weekend in London.
Coca-Cola (KO: down $0.31 to $41.50, Research, Estimates) acknowledged that it has already felt the impact of a call for a boycott of its brand in the Middle East.
"Our business and local bottling partners in the Middle East have felt the impact from the boycott," Ben Deutsche, spokesman for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola said it does not comment on competing brands.
Coke, which has about 20,000 employees in the Middle East, logged net revenue of $5.2 billion in 2002 from its Europe, Eurasia and Middle East markets, proving it's still the global heavyweight in the cola market.
Although Mecca Cola bears a striking resemblance to the Coca-Cola brand, its label in French reads: "No more drinking stupid. Drink with commitment."
Mathlouthi said Mecca Cola is available in 22 countries in Europe and the Middle East and will enter Asia and Africa next month. It already has sold 4.5 million 1.5 liter bottles for about $10.6 million, Mathlouthi said, and he expects to reach 480 million bottles by the end of the year.
About 20 percent of the profit goes to European and Palestinian charitable organizations, Mathlouthi said.
Rita Clifton, chairman of London-based InterBrand, a global branding consultancy firm, said Mecca Cola stands out as a competing product against a dominant global brand because it represents the first viable alternative based on a political and cultural identity.
"Usually, when there have been calls for boycotts of American brands, there were no substitutes that people could opt for instead. Mecca Cola represents that alternative," Clifton said.