Coca-Cola bets big on small bottles, cans

Coca-Cola India, the country’s largest beverages firm, is counting on smaller PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and cans to revive volume growth in sales.

The company, which witnessed a dip in sales due to a slowdown in consumer spending in the past few quarters, has asked its field force to push single-serve packs in the marketplace. The move has come after its new president, Krishnakumar Thirumalai, took charge on May 1, following a major reshuffle in its top order.

In line with the directives given by Coke’s global chief executive, James Quincey, KK, as Krishnakumar is known in the industry, has asked his colleagues to focus on being more consumer-oriented. 

The plan is to extend the company’s influence over the consumer market as changing consumption habits have dented its growth prospects. Coca-Cola’s volume sales dipped in five out of the past nine quarters, including in key summer months of 2015 and a meagre three per cent rise in 2016.

KK’s interest in single-serve packs is not without rationale, as the smaller packs usually derive better profit margins. Headwinds in the beverages market reflected in Coke’s financial performance in 2015-16, when its profit dipped six per cent to Rs 473.8 crore from Rs 504.4 crore the previous year. Its largest bottler Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages’ bottom line, too, shrunk by 28 per cent during the year.

The firm has been increasing the number of packs at least since March 2016, when it came out with 180 ml cans and 300 ml PET bottles for its key brands like Thumbs Up, Sprite, Limca and Coca-Cola. Priced at Rs 15 and Rs 20, for 180 ml can and 300 ml PET, respectively, these new packs let individual consumers purchase and use them conveniently. 

Over the past one year, Coke has expanded the range to newer products like Fuze Tea (PET), Coke Zero (can), and Zico and Vio (aseptic packs). Its archrival, PepsiCo, too, launched 150 ml cans.

In recent years, local players like Xalta, Bisleri Pop and Jayanti Beverages have flooded the market with smaller packs of their fizzy beverages that are similar to what Cola majors like PepsiCo and Coke offer. 

Jayanati Beverages, for example, is selling 250 ml PETs at Rs 12 – 28 per cent lower than Coke’s 300 ml PET bottle. This has put pressure on the established players, industry sources said.

Apart from addressing lower price points, these packs are constantly being pushed in travel retail channels like airports, dhabas and malls. “The single-serve packs are a new bet for us to drive volume by offering a more convenient way of consumption. The smaller cans and PETs are also expected to help create drinking habits while travelling,” a senior industry executive said.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel