Coca-Cola India is picking up the pieces under its new India head Atul Singh. Mr Singh, after a five-year stint in booming soft drink market China, is back in India setting the agenda for the company. Clearly, his priority is to change the company's image and bring growth back on track.
“I will not compromise on values and I need and want to create a team that wants to win,” he told ET in an interview.
In the last three months, he has been effecting a strategic shift in the company's policy. For one, he has set up a health and wellness board consisting of doctors and nutritionists to bring out health drinks in sync with Indian food habits. Who says Coca-Cola is unhealthy? For now, his plan revolves around sticking to the core portfolio which he wants to “drive like hell”.
“Let's face it. We've got problems and we've got to fix them. I have sat with my team and have discussed what we ought to do to bring growth back in the company. I have also told them that we will strictly follow the employee code of conduct.”
Mr Singh comes across as a straight and frank communicator. If the controversies surrounding Coke are at the back of his mind, he seems unfazed. But he is aware that if India were to catch up with China or even Pakistan in terms of per capita consumption, it would have to drastically change its growth model.
The Indian soft drink market has been under the weather for sometime now: First, the pesticide controversy took a heavy toll on its sales and then the affordability strategy dented its bottomline.
“Affordability as a strategy is good. But we went wrong on the implementation. If you place both the 300ml and 200ml bottles in the metros, consumers are bound to pick up the small bottle because it costs only Rs 5. Our effort now should be to segment consumers and offer them products at a price which they can pay.”
The new Coca-Cola India president has given a new twist to the four Ps of marketing and coined five new ones -People, Planet, Portfolio, Profits and Partners. Call it the power of 'Paanch', borrowing from Coke's famous adline. Mr Singh hopes to change the fortune of the Indian subsidiary of the beverage behemoth through his new Ps.
“I have already communicated the essence of the five Ps to all our employees and we hope to drive organisational change through them,” he says.
While People are all about having an engaged and committed workforce, Planet is about respect for the environment. Portfolio, on the other hand, deals with the brands of the company. Profits is self descriptive and Partners would mean having an aligned, motivated and willing trade associates.
The power of 'Paanch' would also give a punch to the overall vision of the Coke CEO. And his vision is not so much about market leadership as it is about growing cola sales itself, and making Coca-Cola India one of the most respected companies of the country.
“We want to grow per capita consumption on a sustainable basis,” Mr Singh said. Within weeks of landing in India he fired up the market with an investment proposal of $120m which would go into upgrading distribution, product portfolio and cooling equipment.
Some of this would also go towards buying back shares from the Indian partners in the bottling operations. Explaining the buyback, Mr Singh said, “That would give us the freedom to invest. India is all about investments and potential.”
He says volumes have been looking up again and the resumption of advertisements, have helped quite a bit.
“A consumer goods company cannot afford to go slow on communication. The Piyo Sar Utha Ke campaign has worked for us,” he says.
The company had stopped advertising for a while for lack of funds. But then Singh has an uphill task ahead. While the Chinese market has doubled in 4 years, India has slowed down.
Going by his experience in China, his bosses in Atlanta would like him to replicate some of those learnings in India -a market high on potential, but low on growth.