Coca-Cola has been ranked as the most reputable business in the annual Top Companies Reputation Index. According to compiler of the index Plus 94 Research, the reputation of Coca-Cola depends on the strength of its recognition, governance, and in particular, communication.
“For The Coca-Cola Company, including its local operations, reputation is the life force of our brand. It is our reputation that has helped us to become an iconic brand and win various consumer and industry awards over the years,” says Vukani Magubane, public affairs and communications director of Coca-Cola Southern Africa.
As a consumer-focused organisation, Coca-Cola prides itself on listening to its consumers and responding to their needs.
“We are aware that our consumers are in the digital space and rather than seeing this as a challenge, we see it as an opportunity to learn more and engage meaningfully with them. At Coca-Cola South Africa we have a host of digital platforms that our consumers can access to connect with us. On all aspects of our business, from funding requests for CSI initiatives, to ingredients in our beverages and consumer participation in promotions and competitions, we encourage consumers to share their comments, questions and feedback.”
In maintaining its reputation, the company follows a sustainability framework with three priorities — women, water, and wellbeing.
“Now in its fourth year, our 5by20 programme is designed to economically empower 25 000 women entrepreneurs across our value chain by 2020. This initiative aims to help women entrepreneurs such as spaza shop owners to overcome the barriers they face to succeeding in business. In partnership with UN Women, we are addressing barriers facing women entrepreneurs by providing them with business skills training, mentoring, and peer networking skills.”
With water being an essential ingredient in all its beverages, it forms a fundamental part of the company’s journey towards sustainability. To this end, the company is focused on giving back the equivalent amount of water to what it uses in the production of all its beverages by 2020.
Since 2010, the Coca-Cola system has invested in 10 wastewater treatment plants, returning clean water to sustain aquatic and plant life across Southern Africa. It has improved water use efficiency for the 11th straight year, with a 17% improvement since 2010. Through 16 community water partnership projects in nine Southern African countries, the company says it is changing the lives of more than 337 000 people.
This builds on its Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) launched in 2005, which increases access to clean water and includes watershed protection, rainwater harvesting, reforestation and agricultural water use efficiency.
The third priority, wellbeing, is designed to help address the public health challenge of obesity.
“To promote consumer choice, we offer a variety of beverages which include reduced, low- and no-calorie options. We help get people moving by supporting physical activity programmes in every country where we do business. For over 10 years, we have continued to support physical activity programmes, especially those focusing on improving the health of young people and creating awareness of the importance of active healthy living,” says Magubane.
The company says more than 300 000 youths have participated in its sporting activities such as the Copa Coca-Cola (where Lucas Radebe began playing), as well as cricket and rugby. It hydrates races such as the Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans Marathons. And for its employees, Coca-Cola has initiated the Biggest Loser competition and organised Wellness Days.
“Together with our bottling partners, ABI, Peninsula Beverages, Coca-Cola Fortune and Coca-Cola Shanduka Beverages, we also support non-mainstream, family-orientated, active, healthy living programmes. We support the Big Walk, which we host in partnership with the department of sport and recreation. The Big Walk promotes walking as a fun physical activity among the youth, women, and families. The event attracted over 16 000 participants in Pretoria earlier this month.”
Magubane admits that the Coca-Cola brand, just like any other, faces challenges from time to time: “Some of the key challenges with regards to reputation are misconceptions surrounding our brands and our products. As a company, we believe in being transparent and honest about our products and corporate social responsibility. Misperceptions however continue to surround our brand and as a company we are committed to dispelling them through open communication and the availability of information.”