Coca-Cola C.E.O.: Voting Rights Advocate?

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There’s a huge number of stakeholders who want to tell you what to do, and many of them don’t work in the business. So you deal with the board, the media, the investors, the analysts, the NGOs, the government. You have this whole galaxy of people you need to deal with in a way that was never true for any of the other jobs. If you haven’t gotten really clear on what are the few things that I want to tell people about and prioritize things this, it can be quite destabilizing.

Does the soda industry have a reputation problem?

The first step is to realize that something’s going wrong. When you’re a famous brand and a famous company, issues get brought to your door every day. If you want to get attention to something, calling it Coke’s fault, or thinking that Coke could help us get this fixed, is much easier than doing that with Acme, Inc., who no one’s heard of.

That doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand. We need to look at them and work out, whether we agree it’s a real problem, and what are we in favor of as part of the solution? We can’t solve everything.

Is Coca-Cola working to diversify away from sugar-heavy drinks?

The starting point is: What does the consumer really want? They want great tasting drinks. And what’s the consequence of some of that? The total food and beverage diet is delivering too many calories and too much sugar. You can get that answer from any health professional. OK. So are we going to tell the consumers what to drink? Are we going to restrict them? We still want to grow our business. But what’s our role in a problem where people are consuming too many calories and too much sugar? We need to get our sugar footprint, for want of a better expression, to go down.

We need the business to grow because if we just sign up to a shrinking business, there’ll be a shareholder revolt. We have to sign up to a growing business with a shrinking sugar footprint. What does that require? Well, it requires us to drive the zero calorie products. It requires us to drive into smaller package sizes. And we need to innovate in drinks that are inherently lower calorie or lower sugar. If we do that, we can actually grow the business and reduce the sugar footprint.

How has the pandemic changed consumer habits?

Half our business is away from home. So with the cinemas closed, the airlines, the hotels, you can see how much it’s down. But what did grow, because people were obliged effectively to spend more time at home, was a resurgence in breakfast. We used to all get up and rush out of apartments to go to work, and many people skip breakfast. Well, now they have more time for it. So juice sales were up.

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