Coca-Cola focuses on growing with communities

Vinay Kamath Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on March 12, 2018

Pacing ahead: Preeti Gupta, a retailer in Naglasabla village near Agra, uses a Coca-Cola solar cooler.

A couple of years ago, Atul Singh, President and CEO, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, on one of his market trips to the hinterland in UP, encountered the challenges retailers faced in offering chilled beverages in summers due to long power cuts. Singh came back from his visit and brainstormed with the company’s technical team on what could be done.

This led to the launch of “eKoCool” solar coolers, a project the company started not only to help retailers chill their drinks using solar power but also empower women.

These coolers are distributed to women retailers, helping them earn a livelihood. Besides cooling drinks, it can also charge lanterns and cell phones which helps them earn that little extra. It remains chilled for at least two-and-a-half hours after sunset.

Starting with 20 solar coolers in Agra, which led to a jump in sales by nearly five times for these retailers, the company has now installed nearly 110 solar coolers and ordered 500 more. In the next phase, the company wants to distribute as many as 1,000 solar coolers to women in UP. Modern-day companies, he says, must first look at what consumers want and then work backwards, if they have to run a sustainable business, says Singh in an interview to Business Line.

From training kirana store owners to helping mango farmers, in its 20 years of operations, Coca-Cola India is focusing on building sustainable communities. The beverage major returned to India in 1993 after exiting the country in the late 1970s.

What Singh is particularly excited about is the work the company has done for communities. Asked about the cost the company incurs for its projects, he replies, “My view is this is just good business. Operating in a sustainable manner, building communities is what we have been doing. People call it CSR, we have just done it as good business,” he said. The company has had 26 quarters of growth with 19 quarters witnessing double-digit growth.


Singh explains that if communities are not sustainable then “our business will not be sustainable.” For example, if a community does not have proper drinking water, Coca-Cola cannot operate a bottling plant.

The company calls it the golden triangle which involves the Government, civil society and the company, making it a win-win situation for all stakeholders. The company’s Parivartan Programme trains retailers, kirana store owners in rural areas on cash management and good business practices to grow their business. These are either done through mobile vans with teachers or through audio visual interactive sessions done at a neighbourhood hall.

“Modern trade is expanding and we don’t want the kirana store owner to feel threatened because our experience shows there is great co-existence. Companies like us need to work through the value chain and give them confidence and help them sustain their business,” says Singh.

Some of the other initiatives that Coca-Cola India has undertaken include an initiative called Project Unnati, in collaboration with Jain Irrigation, which offers farmer training programmes and has established about 100 demo farms in the pilot phase with plans to train 50,000 farmers over five years. The programme uses buses with in-built classrooms to provide on-the-go training in ultra high density plantation techniques in mango farming which can help farmers double their yields.

The first phase of the project has an investment outlay of more than $ 2 million, shared equally between Coca-Cola and Jain Irrigation. It recently rolled out a programme for Government-run schools in Tamil Nadu as well, besides collaborating with NDTV for a fund raising drive ‘Support My School’.

Published on February 14, 2013

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