How has Coca-Cola’s heritage in Africa shaped the company’s investments on the continent? And how is it informing Coca- Cola’s presence in Africa today?
Well, next year marks the 90th anniversary since the first Coke was poured in Johannesburg in 1928 and that milestone naturally provides a chance to reflect on the journey we have been on and our presence today. We firmly believed in Africa’s promise from those early days and ever since our first plant was established in South Africa, our ambition lay in building a strong local businesses that could also spur progress throughout the continent.
While people may see our drinks everywhere, many don’t realise that we have local production in every country in Africa, and rely on a local supply chain of suppliers, distributors and retailers. In many ways, we’re continuing to walk in the footsteps of our forefathers! Both Coca-Cola and Africa have changed dramatically since the early days, one principle remains at our core today – that building a strong business goes hand- in-hand with strengthening the communities we serve.
The slowdown of the last 18 months has led some to question the resilience of the African and wider emerging markets growth story. Do you believe that such concerns are warranted?
Recent economic conditions have certainly led to a slightly more cautious outlook from some economists and investors, but the underlying growth fundamentals of the continent remain very strong.
I have the benefit of travelling from some of the smallest to the largest countries and consistently I see more opportunity and progress today than ever. And when you consider the long-term trends of growing urbanisation, improving education, a diversified economy and a population set to double within the next fifty years, I think we should all remain con dent, optimistic and bullish on Africa’s future prospects. Our confidence in Africa’s promise has remained resolute in both high growth and more turbulent times, and we’ve seen that promise realised.
What are the key priorities for Coca Cola in Africa from an investment standpoint in the coming years? (e.g. expansion, key markets, new products)
We’re investing more than ever in Africa. In 2014, we announced an investment of $17bn over the course of the decade, to expand our capacity and capability specifically in bottling plants, sales and distribution, equipment and community programmes to better serve the continent. As well as building our own business organically we have also invested strategically in homegrown businesses like Chi Limited, which has taken us into the high-growth value-added dairy market; and in strengthening the capabilities and reach of our bottling partners, as with the creation of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa. We believe that this financial investment, as well as remaining constructively discontent in how we do things, are all helping ensure we can continue to support African economies and communities for the next 90 years!
How is the company responding to changing tastes on the continent?
Our success has always been predicated on ensuring we remain ahead of changing consumer tastes, and today we’re evolving our long-term business strategy to ensure we give people more of the drinks they want. While consumers across Africa love our current brands, we also recognise that tastes are changing and people have an increased interest in the food and beverages they consume. Health and obesity concerns are leading to demand for more choice in natural, new and different drinks, smaller more convenient packs and often drinks that contain less sugar. The landscape is changing, and we’re changing too with a new direction that we call Our Way Forward. We’re listening to consumers across Africa and worldwide, and evolving our portfolio to make sure we’re providing that choice of drinks that people tell us they want. In South Africa, for example, we now sell zero calorie versions of all our sparkling drinks, and that’s really just the start of things to come.
Globally there is growing recognition of the key role business plays in driving development. How important is corporate social responsibility and sustainability to Coca Cola in Africa?
We’ve always believed that our business can only be strong as the communities we serve, and so have always supported local communities economically through our business and value-chain as well as socially through local community programmes.
Through our Company and our Foundation, our agship community programmes focus on water replenishment, women’s economic empowerment and wellbeing, transforming millions of lives across the continent. We support these programmes both because it’s the right thing to do and there are critical societal challenges that need to be addressed, and also because we recognise these initiatives are critical for our business growth. Too often, corporate social responsibility is an add-on to a company’s core operations but I believe that sustainability can only be truly sustainable when it is rooted in business strategy.
How are public-private sector partnerships driving development on the continent?
We consistently see that the most impactful community programmes are those that are enabled by partnerships across what we call the golden triangle of government, private sector and civil society. Organisations from each of these areas bring unique capabilities, connections and expertise and when that triangle comes together, truly inspiring progress can be achieved. Whether that is working with governments to improve health systems such as with Project Last Mile, or introduce water replenishment programmes as with RAIN, we have seen the power of partnership and collaboration first-hand.
The fifth African Union-EU summit will take place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on 29–30 November in the context of countries like Germany pushing for more trade and investment between the two regions. How can the summit help promote economic ties between the EU and Africa?
We are all eagerly anticipating the outcomes of the discussion and see the meeting as a valuable opportunity to expand a partnership that will enable increased economic growth in the two continents to the end of this decade and beyond. The European Union makes an important contribution to Africa through development aid, and so, in addition to seeing the difference such aid has made to communities, this forum will be a valuable platform to showcase future investment potential.
Hosting the meeting in a dynamic and fast-growing economy such as the Ivory Coast provides an ideal blueprint for the opportunity to accelerate the pace of change and excitement that is bubbling in the continent, and which Coca-Cola is committed to continuing supporting for decades to come.
African Business Magazine