Coca-Cola, PepsiCo choose different paths to bottling business

Cola majors PepsiCo and Coca-Cola seem to share divergent strategies when it comes to bottling in India. While PepsiCo exited operations in the north and east of India, rival Coca-Cola is streamlining its bottling operations to stay relevant with the times.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), the bottling arm of Coca-Cola India, said it was strengthening its sales and supply-chain functions, manufacturing a wider range of beverages from premium to value and merging the existing alternate beverage division into mainstream distribution to achieve its new turnover target of $2.5 billion (or Rs 16,250 crore) by 2020. Sources said Coke’s latest push on the bottling and distribution front came after James Quincey took over as president and chief executive officer of the company in May. 

The new strategy dwells on the need for overall revenue growth, led by a focus on all beverage categories rather than carbonated drinks alone. Christina Ruggeiro, who took charge of HCCB in May, is understood to have come with that mandate.

According to her, the firm, which had a turnover of Rs 9,471 crore in 2016-17, would now operate under seven zones instead of the earlier five and would re-organise its corporate centre resources to serve these zones better. The rejig, she said, would also make some existing jobs redundant, with incumbents encouraged to apply for the new positions created.

PepsiCo, on the other hand, is exiting its bottling business in line with the company’s global strategy of being asset-light in beverages. Currently, PepsiCo operates nine plants in the south and west of India, with 34 other plants (of the total 43) in the hands of franchise bottlers. Of these, 20 are owned by RJ Corp’s Varun Beverages — the third largest bottler for PepsiCo globally. 

Coca-Cola owns 21 plants in India through HCCB of the total 56 bottling units serving the region. A total of 24 of the 56 units are with franchise bottlers, who produce as well as distribute its products, while the balance 11 are with co-packers, who do not have the right to distribute beverages. 

PepsiCo’s drive to divest its bottling operations has meant that it sources more from outside — around 45 per cent of its beverage supply comes from Varun Beverages. Coca-Cola’s total outsourcing, in contrast, remains at 35 per cent.

To drive revenue of HCCB, the firm is now putting more resources behind its field force, making its corporate office leaner as it pushes its carbonated and non-carbonated portfolio aggressively across different parts of India.

HCCB has also relocated its corporate headquarters to Bengaluru from Gurgaon to better focus on its business, 40 per cent of which is located in the south. Sources said, Bengaluru was not only viewed as an ideal location for Coca-Cola’s southern markets, but also as one that provided easy access to markets based in the west of the country.

HCCB is also setting up a premium beverage division to service requirements around niche drinks and said it would add one million new outlets to its total retail reach by 2020.

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