Comment - Soft Drinks & Water - Shifting Focus at Coca-Cola Co
The Coca-Cola Co has spent the last 20 years diversifying its portfolio. Where once the rest of the stable cowered in Coke's shadow, more of the company's brands are now grabbing the spotlight and delivering growth. Ray Rowlands looks at how the firm has benefitted from covering bases.
Last month, The Coca-Cola Co released its full-year results, which came in in-line with expectations. Global volumes for 2011 came in 5% up on 2010. While the company’s flagship, namesake brand grew by only 3%, still beverage volumes rose 8% for the full year.
Such a result says two things: Firstly, Coca-Cola remains a major force to be reckoned with in the global beverage market. Secondly, non-carbonated drinks are proving to be an important growth provider. In fact, the company is moving rapidly to become an all-beverage company, as recent events in Australia only go to emphasis.
In October, Coca-Cola Amatil - which is 30%-owned by Coca-Cola - positioned itself to snap up Fosters Group’s spirit interests. Even if this deal does not go ahead, Coca-Cola Amatil already represents Beam Inc's brands down under. The one major beverage category that TCC is not involved in seems to be wine (yes, it has interests in dairy).
The global beverage industry is changing and its players need to adapt to survive. Just ten years ago, CSDs represented around 50% of worldwide soft drinks volumes. Today that share has shrunk to less than 40%. In some countries, the US being the prime example, the category is in a state of volume contraction. Besides approaching maturity, CSDs carry the curse of associated health risks, real or otherwise, with headlines such as “ Soda Linked to Lung Disease”, "Heavy Soda Drinking Tied to Asthma” and "Soda Drinks Cause Vascular Problems” tending to have an adverse influence on health-driven consumers.
One company strategy has been to concentrate on less developed economies, with Coca-Cola itself reporting double-digit growth in markets like India and China. Attempts are also being made to rekindle interest in carbonates with more consumer-friendly presentations, more innovative flavours and new sweetening agents (e.g. Stevia). However, it is obvious that consumer attitudes and beverage preferences are changing to the detriment of CSDs. Recent non-CSD growth for Coca-Cola was led by the combined efforts of water brands, energy drinks, ready-to-drink teas plus juices and juice drinks with the specific targeting of health-conscious consumers helping to drive sales.
The recession may have slowed the development of bottled water, but it has failed to effectively stem the tide. Category volumes have doubled in a decade, the segment expanding to challenge CSDs for leadership of the overall soft drinks market. Projecting forward from current consumption levels, bottled water could well be the top performing soft drink, in volume terms, in the next five years. The importance attached to bottled water by Coca-Cola, therefore, is understandable. The company is highly committed with a broad battalion of brands from Aquarius in the US to Eva in Nigeria to Wilkins in the Philippines.
Innovations like the new PlantBottle and the LOHAS/Ecoflex lightweight crushable bottle underscore the firm's commitment to the long-term sustainability of its water business.
Potentially serious adverse health effects have not deterred consumer uptake of energy drinks, meanwhile, which remains the most dynamic category across the soft drinks spectrum. Coca-Cola is active in this category in its own right, Burn, for instance, is available in around 70 markets. However, the company has failed to achieve the level of international success for its energy drink portfolio that it is used to with its CSD stable. The company’s 2008 distribution deal with Hansen Natural Corp for the latter's Monster energy drink brand, could thus be classed as a master-stroke. Overnight, it more than quadrupled Coca-Cola’s category share in the large US market.
It will be difficult for the multinational to ever claim global category leadership, however, due to the high proportion of traditional energy drinks against which it must compete in Asia. Nevertheless, it is clear that the cola giant has attached high importance to being at the forefront of the energy drinks explosion.
Behind energy drinks, the iced tea category is the most vibrant of all soft drinks and a useful market to be in. Company still beverage volume sales benefitted considerably during the fourth quarter from double-digit growth for Gold Peak tea. The brand has grown in leaps and bounds since its introduction into the US market in 2006. However, Nestea, a brand of Coca-Cola’s joint venture with Nestle, Beverage Partners Worldwide, currently represents the cornerstone of the company’s iced tea involvement.
It seems odd, then, that the joint venture is being phased out in a number of territories. What can be certain, however, is that Coca-Cola will not desert the category. Whilst the existing partnership with Nestle will, in future, concentrate on Europe and Canada, I am sure we will see the company concentrate on solo iced tea projects across the rest of the globe.
The fact that Coca-Cola reported good results for its juice and juice drink brands is an admirable achievement. Pure juice has struggled for a number of years as it faces a mixed public reception. On the one hand, juice meets growing health and nutritional needs but, at the same time, some consumers are worried about its calorie and sugar content. Also, pure juice tends to carry a premium price that suffers in the face of rising concentrate costs. It is the cheaper - and less acidic - juice drinks category that has performed well. Through a mix of organic growth and acquisition, Coca-Cola has built up a sizeable juice and juice drinks portfolio, the best known of which is Minute Maid, the second biggest juice brand in the US behind PepsiCo’s Tropicana. This is no mean feat, considering that the US is the single largest market for packaged juice.
Today, with over 3,500 beverages on its books, Coca-Cola can offer its public a plethora of great brands. The way things are going, soon the company won't be best known for its flagship cola brand, but rather as the world’s leading all-beverage provider.
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