CEO James Quincey eyes business beyond Coke as growth beckons

Coca-Cola Global CEO James Quincey at a press meet in Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar
James Quincey, the 52-year-old newly appointed president and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Coca-Cola Company, has a packed schedule on Thursday and Friday on his maiden trip to India. 

In Mumbai on the first leg of his tour, Quincey’s itinerary includes meeting representatives of the Maharashtra government, following the announcement of a nearly Rs 11,000-crore investment along with partners in June, launching an orange flavour in the company’s Minute Maid portfolio, and visiting the Gurgaon office of Coca-Cola India to address employees there, and review operations with the senior management on Friday.

British-born Quincey, who succeeded Muhtar Kent as CEO in May, is keen to take Coca-Cola India into the parent company’s top 3 club. “That is my vision,” he said, during his media address in Mumbai on Thursday. “But in the foreseeable future, K K’s (T Krishnakumar, president, India and Southwest Asia, Coca-Cola) mandate would be to take the company from being the sixth-largest to being the fifth-largest.”

Quincey, a Coca-Cola veteran, said the world’s largest beverage company would push its way up in India by participating in more categories beyond carbonated drinks, looking to being both global and local in nature and working on a “fruit-circular economy” that endeavoured to cover activities from the farm to the bottle.

“It is a great strength that the name of the company is the name of the brand, but it has also somehow limited us. While brand Coca-Cola will always be the heart and soul of the company, the company needs to be much bigger than it,” he said, sitting in the Taj Mahal Hotel, the foundation of which was laid in Mumbai in 1898, six years after The Coca-Cola Company was formed in Georgia in the United States.

Quincey, who joined Coca-Cola in 1996, said the company had been shifting focus away from sparkling, or carbonated, drinks over the last 10 years. “Earlier, we were 90 per cent sparkling. Now under 70 per cent of the business is sparkling,” he said. “A 50:50 split of sparkling and non-sparkling could come by 2025 or 2030,” he said, adding it was a milestone his company was working towards.
In India, Coca-Cola’s revenue continues to come significantly from its sparkling portfolio. But this mix could change, as the company plans to more than double juice distribution from 1 million outlets to 2.6 million outlets in the next three years.

Additionally, Coca-Cola India will create a range of juice drinks based on regional and national fruits, add juice into its sparkling drinks, export processed fruit to other markets and launch products that are beverage-plus. Also, the company is piloting juice- and coffee-based drinks through the dispensing route and working on a larger dairy footprint.

“No business can grow in a perfect straight line. We have had a rough few months at the end of last year and at the beginning of this year, but things are starting to turn around and come back. We are still very positive,” Quincey said of the challenges Coca-Cola India faced in the wake of demonetisation announced in November 2016 as well as a general slowdown in carbonated drink sales. India remains unique in the Coca-Cola system for being a market with two cola drinks. Quincey said these brands would continue to grow even as the market for healthier beverages evolved.

“Today, we are still a majority sparkling business in India but are beginning to expand the portfolio. Thums Up and Coke will continue to grow, but the total business will grow faster,” he added.

Journey to the top
  • Coca-Cola’s global CEO James Quincey is looking to propel India into the top 3 club
  • Aims to push India from being the No. 6 ranked market to being No. 5, and then break into the top 3. This journey could take a decade
  • Intends to expand the non-sparkling biz
  • In India, Coca-Cola’s carbonated drinks business is large. But this mix could change in the future