‘Maybe Coke Should have Anticipated the Consumer Slowdown Earlier’
beverages has been a challenge. Of 1.2 billion people in this country, only 250 million consume soft drinks. Maybe we should have anticipated the consumer slowdown earlier. I suppose there is a time that lapsed which we are making up for. But more than slowdown, infrastructure is the bigger challenge. When will Coca-Cola return to double-digit growth? What are you doing to fast-track that? I am reasonably confident it will happen soon, though I can’t tell you when. Slowdown is a concern, but we have solutions too. What we know is that we need multiple approaches to reach consumers…. We are reorienting ourselves in context of the slowdown. Segmented execution is the key. There has to be a separate approach for rural consumers as consumption here tends to be more seasonal. We have separate retail and distribution approaches for rural markets, villages even with population of 200 people, teenage consumers, metros, the grocery channel, modern trade and online orders. Some examples are splash bar (small dispensers within grocery stores) and happiness-on-the-go machines (mobile vending machines) — both are India innovations. The mobile vending machine which we piloted in Ahmedabad, for example, dispenses colas at .` 5, to consumers who find it difficult to buy a soft drink at .` 10. It can churn out 2,000 cups of colas a day. How much are prices and distribution strategies influenced by competition, considering there’s only you and PepsiCo in this space? We benchmark our availability and distribution against Hindustan Unilever, not Pepsi. Most consumer goods companies have HUL as their benchmark; so do we. We don’t react to competition’s margins and prices…that era is over. We do what we feel is right for the customer (retailer) and consumer. The .` 8 price point, for example, has served its immediate purpose… we are phasing it out for now though I can’t tell about the long term. Are colas a declining category? I don’t subscribe to that view. There’s no loss of share for colas. The consumer wants a choice in terms of products, flavours, categories and packs. Diets have their own set of consumers. Is there pressure to take brand Coke to No 1 rank? No one has told me to push brand Coke ahead of others. We’ve two colas and pushing one over other is certainly not something we have done. Why haven’t there been any new brand launches from Coca-Cola in over five years? There’s no point innovating for the sake of it. We have innovated on pack sizes and distribution — that we believe is more important. There is a lot of ground to cover… lot of new recruitment of consumers into the category is required. But we have revived Schweppes tonic water and ginger ale, new variants of juices and multiple new packs of our brands.