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Adapting means winning

At the start of every year, we take a long, hard look at the previous 12 months and try to capture the key elements that really made a difference to our stakeholders and our performance. This year, with the pandemic as the context, it was a more complex assessment.

But from the outset, one thing that struck me was the way that our people and our business had adapted: rapidly; with great care for all stakeholders; and with incredible focus on our priorities. I believe that this has been at the heart of our ability to ‘win’ in the last 12 months. It is clear to me that as consumers and customers demand more, it will be those that can adapt the fastest, and the smartest, that will win.

The World Economic Forum recently highlighted critical thinking and problem-solving among the skills that will be needed in the next five years. These need to be complemented by self-management, active learning, resilience, and agility. I am particularly proud of the ways in which every single part of our business demonstrated these skills over the last 12 months.

The more I reflect, the more I realise how far we have come in building this operational agility into our culture over the last few years and the more I realise that sometimes we take things for granted. This crisis has reinforced that the contribution of every single person, no matter job level or job grade, matters and is uniquely precious. It is the contribution and response of every single person that determines our collective success. It is precisely this agility and adaptability that played a critical role in our performance throughout the most challenging year we have ever had.

This organisational shift does not happen by chance. Over the last few years, we have purposefully invested resources in building the core strengths for our business that will accelerate adaptation: an agile mindset; the strongest, broadest, most flexible portfolio in the industry; genuine customer and community partnerships; digital and technical infrastructure; and supply chain resilience. All these elements played a role in our ability to adapt and win in 2020. A great source of pride for us is that we did not lose a day of production across our plants, we maintained service to our customers, and supported our people and our communities throughout.

The strength and breadth of our portfolio allowed us to act with speed to capture new occasions, particularly in a dynamic market environment. And the pandemic certainly accelerated shifts in consumer behaviour, as our homes became the epicentre of our lives and environment for working, socialising and entertainment.

As many of our on-trade customers were forced to close their doors, there was a need to revaluate our channel and marketing strategy. Across our markets, we up-weighted support in grocery, convenience, and petro-retail to create new propositions for these growing ‘at-home occasions’, with a particular focus on increasing the relevance of our sparkling soft drinks for screen-time and meal-time.

Coffee is a critical opportunity for us in the coming decade but the prospect of launching in 14 markets in the middle of a global pandemic was never going to be easy. Thanks to the partnerships with our customers and the commitment of our people we were able to adapt and respond to coffee enthusiasts’ needs for a close-to-barista experience in their own homes. We applied the same thinking and creativity to our adult sparkling beverages such as Schweppes combined with the premium spirits product range, we distribute to drive excitement for the “Aperitivo moment” at home.

Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), our Nigerian team launched the Buka (local Eating & Drinking outlets) support programme providing personal protective equipment (PPEs) and automated hand wash stations, and supporting home deliveries, adapting the outlets for business continuity within the imposed safety restrictions.

Our marketing and commercial teams in partnership with our customers developed a more agile route-to-market; investing in food aggregators and delivery channels to capitalise on the take-away occasion and increasing our online shopper activations with leading retailers.

In Nigeria, we opened up new shopping channels for our consumers by partnering with leading e-commerce platforms to enable them shop from the comfort and safety of their homes, with free delivery.

Digital also played a key role in our customer support solutions, allowing our field sales teams to focus on more value-adding activities. We revamped our online customer portal, which included the introduction of a digital ordering system and image recognition technology for shelf-scanning. These innovations have made our customers’ lives easier and ensured that we could get our products from warehouse to shelf effortlessly. Throughout the year, our investment in card payment systems for vending machines also facilitated essential ‘contactless’ solutions for our consumers.

We also believe that adaptability means recognising and responding to the concerns of others, a belief that has shaped our support for communities for 70 years. Along with our partners The Coca-Cola Company, our strong community roots meant we were well-positioned to act with speed and compassion.

In Nigeria, for example, we donated over 30 million centilitres of Eva Premium water and Coca-Cola beverages to support communities, governments, and COVID-19 isolation centres across the country. This helped to meet hydration and refreshment needs for frontline workers and individuals undergoing Covid-19 treatment. As part of the Coca-Cola System in Nigeria, we jointly donated N170 million to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to support COVID-19 relief efforts in Nigeria. We equally prioritized the health and safety of our people by providing individual hand sanitizers and face masks to over 2,500 of our people on the field as well as bulk sanitizers and dispensers for our customer locations. To help cushion the impact of the pandemic on the vulnerable population, we launched a food relief intervention and provided essential food items for over 2,000 households across 14 locations in Nigeria.

This and hundreds of other examples across our markets, are testament to how we have adapted through the pandemic, thanks to an investment in our people and their strong belief in our shared purpose. Building a fast, sustainable recovery, that creates value for all, will be an incredibly demanding but fulfilling undertaking. With adaptability ‘hard-wired’ into our thinking and our culture, and care for our people and the partners with whom we share our journey, I am convinced we are heading in a winning direction.

Bogdanovic is CEO, Coca-Cola HBC

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