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What are the biggest-ever rivalries in business?

Two king pieces facing off on a chess board

Although some healthy competition can be good for business, as companies do what they can to get ahead, sometimes they end up stepping on their rival’s toes. We took a closer look at the biggest-ever rivalries in business.

This list is in no particular order.

Tesco vs Sainsbury’s

The battle between the UK’s two largest supermarkets has been ongoing for some time. Sainsbury’s had been Britain’s biggest supermarket for most of the 20th century but was overtaken by Tesco in 1995, with the two chains experiencing some heated clashes over the years.

For example, during their ongoing battle, Sainsbury’s has complained about Tesco’s advertising on numerous occasions. One especially notable complaint was aimed at Tesco’s “Never pay more for your branded shop” ad from October 2015, which ended up being banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The Sacramento Valley Railroad vs the Central Pacific Railroad

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a series of business rivalries between various US railroad companies, known as the Railroad Wars, took place, and the dispute between The Sacramento Valley Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad is particularly notable.

The two companies began competing for a road in Auburn, which the Sacramento company wanted to abandon. However, Central Pacific convinced a local Welshman to sue them. He was successful and gained a court order to halt the road’s destruction, but Sacramento Valley ignored the court order, resulting in numerous railroad workers being arrested and put in jail. In one wild encounter, a local militia even opened fire on workers for disassembling the road.

Coca-Cola vs Pepsi

The rivalry between Coca-Cola and Pepsi is, perhaps, the most well-known in the business world. Dubbed the “Cola Wars”, their battle for soft drink superiority really began to heat up once Pepsi-Cola merged with Frito-Lay Inc. to form PepsiCo in 1965.

Over the years, their rivalry has seen the two take various shots at one another in advertising, but one especially notable event was a blind test where users were filmed showing a preference for one of the two colas, known as the “Pepsi Challenge”. In 1985, Coca-Cola even reformulated its recipe and released New Coke, but the US public reacted so badly to it, that the original recipe was reintroduced after just three months.

British Airways vs Virgin Atlantic

After Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984, a battle to be the UK’s biggest airline began, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that the rivalry turned especially bitter.

Each company sued the other for libel in 1993, whilst British Airways was fined £4 million in 1999 for breaching EU competition rules after Virgin reported them for offering incentives to travel agents. The two are still at war today as demonstrated by the two airlines unveiling their new business class offerings within weeks of each other in 2019.

Sky vs BT

In the worlds of broadcasting and telecoms, few rivalries are as big as Sky vs BT. The two have been competing for control of the UK broadband market for years, but their rivalry has intensified since BT started bidding for – and winning – the broadcasting rights to Premier League football matches back in 2012.

BT’s forage into football has seen them carry out extensive marketing to lure Sky customers to BT Sport, and whilst Sky retains the majority of the market share in the sports broadcasting market, BT’s recently announced joint venture with Warner Bros. Discovery could tip the scales in their favour.

Ferrari vs Lamborghini

Ferrari had been around for 24 years before an encounter between the company’s Founder, Enzo Ferrari, and Ferruccio Lamborghini, a successful tractor manufacturer, led to the latter setting up a rival luxury sports car brand.

Lamborghini was the owner of a Ferrari at the time, but he travelled to Ferrari’s home to let him know he was unhappy with its clutch and made suggestions for how Ferrari could improve it. However, Ferrari told Ferruccio, “Let me make cars. You stick to making tractors.” Enraged by the remarks, Lamborghini began making supercars of his own and the two companies have been in direct competition ever since.

Sony vs Microsoft

After Microsoft entered the console market in 2001 with the release of the Xbox, the US company became embroiled in a console war with Japanese tech giant Sony.

Whilst the Xbox was largely outsold by Sony’s PlayStation 2, the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005 saw Microsoft gain a lot of ground on its competitor. Along with various consoles, they have competed for more than 20 years, using exclusive games, technology and features to try and get the upper hand in a market where the two companies currently control 72% of the market share.

With Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard, it will be interesting to see where this console war goes next.

Dyson vs Hoover

After entering the vacuum cleaner market in 1991, Dyson started an intense rivalry with US company Hoover, which culminated in one of the highest court awards for a UK patent case in history.

In 1999, Hoover released their Vortex bagless cleaner range, which led Dyson to accuse them of infringing their patent on their dual cyclone cleaner. The resulting high court case saw Hoover be told to pay Dyson £4 million in damages and stop selling their triple vortex cleaner. Hoover appealed the decision but lost and Hoover’s owner at the time, Candy, even sued James Dyson for libel in the Italian courts, but the case was thrown out.

Aldi vs Marks & Spencer

The rivalry between these two supermarkets hasn’t been going on for long but has been one of the most memorable in recent history. After Aldi launched Cuthbert the Caterpillar, M&S, which released its iconic Colin the Caterpillar cake more than 30 years ago, took legal action against the German supermarket chain in 2021.

The resulting high court case was resolved in February this year, but only after the two took various digs at one another on social media. Cuthbert has returned to supermarket shelves since the case but his appearance has now been altered.

Adidas vs Puma

The story behind Adidas and Puma is a tale of sibling rivalry, with the sporting brands being formed as the result of a family feud between the Dassler brothers, Adi and Rudi Dassler. The two shoemakers had co-owned Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik, a company that had made shoes for Jesse Owens, the US track and field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, for 25 years.

But a bitter falling out – the most commonly cited reason for which was because Rudi had had an affair with Adi’s wife – meant they disbanded their company to set up individual ventures – Adidas and Puma – in a move that split the brother’s hometown of Herzogenaurach for decades.

Apple vs Samsung

Apple and Samsung are the two biggest household names in the world of smartphones, and their rivalry has been thrust into the public eye numerous times over the years.

Along with releasing various advertisements directly targeting the other – the Samsung Galaxy S9 advert is quite controversial for this reason – Apple filed a lawsuit against its tech rival in 2011 for copying their patented smartphone design. In 2018, Apple finally won the lawsuit, resulting in Samsung being told to pay $539 million (£433m) to the US company.

Amazon vs FedEx

Despite previously relying heavily on FedEx to deliver its packages, in August 2019, US retail giant Amazon announced that Amazon Marketplace traders were no longer permitted to use the transportation company to deliver Amazon Prime packages.

Amazon cited poor performance standards as the reason for terminating the partnership, although FedEx had ended its air delivery contract with Amazon in June 2019 and opted against renewing its ground delivery contract in August of the same year.

Since then, FedEx has pared up with various smaller companies as it tries to compete with Amazon’s vast global delivery platform.

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