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Tuesday 28 June 2022

Coca-Cola Oceania’s Julie O’Toole on Covid, competition and sugar consumption

16th May 2022 By Bridget O'Connell | | @foodtickernz

The head of Coca-Cola Oceania’s New Zealand business, Julie O’Toole, tells the Ticker about how the beverage company has fared during the last 12 months of Covid and how the beverage company’s focus on reformulation is tracking.

Coca-Cola Oceania NZ country lead Julie O’Toole

Q. Having been with Coca-Cola for more than 18 years in various roles, you moved from your position as head of customer and commercial NZ and Pacific Islands to head up the NZ business in around March last year – how has the mid-pandemic move been working out?

A. What I find interesting about FMCG is the ever-changing landscape, and if you think about Covid and what that has challenged us with, it has been fascinating.

We have focused on being better for people, better for business, and better for society, and putting those three things together has helped us continue our growth trajectory.

Through Covid, this meant I was concentrating on our people and our well-being and giving them flexibility and enabling them to look after their well-being when they worked. 

Our manufacturing and distribution partners, Coca-Cola European Partners, had a big focus on ensuring they were looking after small businesses because those were having a really tough time.

For us in terms of business, we built our marketing programmes around helping them support small businesses in their time of need. The way you can pivot your marketing programme to support the moment at the time I think has been really interesting.

So, what can you tell us about how this has been reflected in the performance of the business, given that your channel split is roughly 55:45 between grocery and on the go sales?

We have grown sales over the years of Covid. Marginally in 2020, but this has continued through 2021 and that is because we supported the large customers as consumers flooded into grocery.

And we are the number one or two brand in those categories that we are in – we have trusted brands and in times like this people revert to the most trusted brand. 

At the same time, we have supported small customers as they have come on and off lockdown so that ability to be across the market, supporting all parts of the market, has been successful as a dual entity with us and CCEP together.

Coca-Cola has 26 brands and more than 250 SKUs across a number of beverage categories running from sparkling soft drinks, water with Kiwi Blue, juice with Keri, dairy, energy and enhanced drinks such as Glaceau VitaminWater and tea – have there been any standouts?

The growth has been across the board – in cola, in flavours, in mixers – certainly over Covid it is not a secret that the trend around mixing at home has grown. Juices continue to grow, water is growing, as is vitamin – they are all doing well. In the areas we have zero sugar we are also growing. So it really is across the board.

Our market share is now just over 45.4% in beverages and it is increasing.

It has also been about delivering what the New Zealand consumer wants, and it is up to us to respond as quickly as we can to things as they change.

We have found that our canned packs have grown this year very fast, and part of that is the way consumers are working from home more. They are bringing their working lunch into the home and they are having their own individual portion in cans.

Sugar reduction has been a big focus for Coca-Cola globally, and in New Zealand the company has committed to a goal of reducing sugar by 20% across its drinks portfolio by 2025. How is that tracking?

We reached our reduction target of 10% set for 2020, and we are well on our way to delivering our minus 20% by 2025, I think we are sitting at minus 14%.

Over half our brands in New Zealand offer a low or no sugar option now, and the sales of our low and no sugar drinks have grown by 23% in the past two years. Right now, 41%  of our purchased drinks are low or no sugar and one in every two Coca-Colas purchased have no sugar.



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