Coca-Cola is a household name, but what has it been doing to stay that way?

Vukani Magubane, public affairs and communications director at Coca-Cola South Africa

Vukani Magubane, public affairs and communications director at Coca-Cola South Africa

Coca-Cola was once again number one in the Top Companies Reputation Index awards, rated on the quality of its goods and services, handling of its employees, public affection for the company and the perception that the company delivers excellent value.

Vukani Magubane, public affairs and communications director at Coca-Cola South Africa says: “Consumer and stakeholder feedback is the force behind our reputation. It is crucial for us to keep in touch with our consumers and be relevant in the market through consistent engagement and communications, particularly with key stakeholders.

“The Top Companies Reputation Index awards let us know that we are on the right track.
Together with our bottling partners Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa and Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages we touch the lives of millions of people each and every day, and we are pleased to not only receive appreciation for our products but to be recognised for our impact in communities across the country.”

The company’s employees are its number one ambassadors, and encouraging them to live the company’s values is the best way to start, says Magubane. “At Coca-Cola we live according to our values, and encourage and inspire our employees, or as we refer to them — associates — to do the same.”

She says Coca-Cola has simplified its values to make them tangible and contemporary. They are: leadership, collaboration, integrity, accountability, passion, diversity, and quality. The company’s “associates” are also urged to look after themselves, as healthier employees tend to be more productive and absenteeism is reduced.

Coca-Cola’s reputation has been boosted by the successful adoption of a sustainability framework, which has three priorities — women, water, and wellbeing.

“Now in its sixth year, our 5by20 programme is designed to economically empower 110 000 women entrepreneurs in South Africa across our value chain by 2020,” says Magubane. “This initiative aims to help women entrepreneurs such as spaza shop owners to overcome the barriers they face to succeeding in business. One 5by20 partnership is with UN Women; in the programme we are addressing barriers facing women entrepreneurs by providing them with business skills training, mentoring, and peer networking skills.”

As water is an essential ingredient in all its beverages, it forms a fundamental part of the company’s journey towards sustainability. Coca-Cola is aiming to give back the equivalent amount of water it uses in the production of its beverages by 2020.

“Since 2010, Coca-Cola 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.”

Its wellbeing approach is designed to help address the public health challenge of obesity, which affects Coca-Cola generally. To shape consumer choice, the company has increased its variety of low- and no-calorie options, including the new mid-calorie variant Coca-Cola Life.

“We are also part of the industry’s Healthy Food Options forum, which is working with government to find solutions to the obesity challenge. We also ensure that for each pack of beverage, the ingredients and calories are clearly spelled out on the nutrition information table. Through this transparent display of information, we would like to encourage consumers to be aware of the total food and beverage daily calorie intake, while continuing to enjoy the refreshing quality of our soft drinks.

“Coca-Cola helps 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.

“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 Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa and Coca-Cola Peninsula 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. It attracted over 16 000 participants in Pretoria last year and will be led by Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula again this year on October 2.”

Magubane says some of the key challenges with regards to reputation are misconceptions surrounding Coca-Cola’s brands and products. These misperceptions are being addressed through open communication.

“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.

“In 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.”

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