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Demand from rural, non-containment urban areas put business back on track: T Krishnakumar of Coca-Cola India

Unveiling two new products under the Minute Maid brand, he told in an e-session that the company is focusing on digital and social media but plans to be on traditional mediums as well in the coming weeks. He expects a steady demand in the festive season and talks about its partnerships with cricket tournaments

Marking Coca-Cola India’s entry into the nascent category of ‘immunity-boosting’ beverages, Minute Maid has launched Minute Maid ‘Vita Punch’, which provides daily requirement of Vitamin C to support immunity, and ‘Nutriforce’, which has apple juice with iron, zinc and other essential vitamins.

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Unveiling the two products, T Krishnakumar, President, Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia; Vijay Parasuraman, Vice-President, Marketing, Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia; Ishteyaque Amjad, Vice-President Public Affairs, Communication and Sustainability, ‎Coca-Cola India and South West Asia; and Sunil Gulati, Vice-President, Technical, Coca-Cola, India and South West Asia, discussed how the brand is trying to be more agile in the crisis.

Krishnakumar, stating how the company had committed to invest $5 billion in its India business by 2020, said, “There might be some scheduling or rescheduling but we are absolutely on track both in terms of investments and business, and very optimistic and very positive about the India market. There has been no change in terms of business policies or investments.”

In the first few weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak, the company had lost some of its business during its peak business season.

“But as we moved forward and started restoring operations and distribution, we have seen week-on-week improvement in terms of consumption and business. At this point of time, we will come back to normal levels pretty soon. The rural market has been stronger for us because of less containment and our distribution has picked up really faster there and agricultural output has also been pretty good. But we also have urban areas where there has been no massive containment and business picked up. However, the crisis is not yet over, but we will try to operate where we can. The good news is that demand is coming through very well. We are taking a lot of steps to build our portfolio and home occasions. With that, we should really see a steady demand for ourselves during the festive season,” he added.

In the first phase, Parasuraman said, the company was directing funds to community programmes and as it moved to the second phase, it launched its campaign while spending most of the money on digital.

He said, “As normalcy returns, we will slowly adjust and all mediums will come into play. We will start on traditional mediums in the coming few weeks. We keep tracking the eyeballs, and where they are sticky, we will efficiently invest the spends for the entire portfolio.”

During the crisis, the company’s contribution and split between sparkling drinks, juices and carbonated drinks remained same.

As people remained locked inside, the consumption trend shifted from ‘away from home’ to ‘at home’.

Talking about the split change, Krishnakumar said ‘out-of-home’ consumption pretty much went down from March to April. It started to revive from June but the salience very much shifted to ‘at home’.

To accelerate at-home consumption, the company is creating affordable versions of existing products while giving more attention to the grocery channel and creating more relevance for its portfolio.

All of its manufacturing plants are running based on geographical demand. Its grocery channel is 100% operational for at-home demand. Away from home will be more operational as outlets open up.

He mentioned how the biggest capability-building or scaling up the company has done during Covid-19 times is—first, the ability to work virtually and secondly, to quickly scale up presence in e-commerce while trying to replicate its brick and mortar expansion.

Talking about Coca-Cola’s advertising plans in IPL and its on-ground partnership with ICC, Parasuraman said, “We continue to stay invested in cricket and it is not a short-term but a long-term strategy for us. In terms of IPL, we have partnerships with five teams on ground and we continue to work with them as things evolve. In terms of advertising in IPL, we will have to see how things unfold, there is no decision yet.”

The panellists reiterated the company’s strategy and approach to get the entire portfolio from indulgence to functional beverages and to be hyper local.

And with its  commitment as a ‘total beverage company with strong local roots’, they said the expansion of Minute Maid with the introduction of the new beverages underlines Coca-Cola India’s focus on the ‘Fruit Circular Economy' initiative, enabling farmers to increase their yield by sourcing fruits to launch fruit-based beverages. 

It has committed an investment of $1.7 billion towards creating a Fruit Circular Economy to aid the Indian agri-ecosystem till 2023.

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