It’s a warm day in Nairobi. The market is not as busy it would be on a weekend, but ordinary Kenyans are hustling about their daily chores around small stalls, each with a name and identifying number. From Mama Njeri’s Chips to Gathiri’s Nyama Choma (roast meat) to Akinyi’s Salon, many are occupied by small-scale businesspeople preparing for lunch.

Then, the market comes alive.

Welcome to Kenyatta Market, one of Nairobi’s most popular nyama choma joints. Vibrant red Coca-Cola branding provides a welcome splash of color against a backdrop of walls that were once white but now are greying. Coca-Cola refrigerators, umbrellas, chairs and seats are also positioned throughout the bustling area.

While the market’s popularity has waned amid the proliferation of high-end malls and social establishments, the tradition of serving meals and refreshing consumers with an ice-cold Coke while they have their hair braided continues is alive and well. For decades, the market has been a loyal outlet of Coca-Cola products, a relationship cultivated since the market opened in the mid-1970s.

A group of 20 Executive MBA students from Colorado State University (CSU) visited the Kenyatta Market last month to see Coca-Cola’s business in Kenya and get a more holistic perspective of the company’s value chain – from production to sale. Since entering the Kenyan market 65 years ago, Coca-Cola has built a very loyal customer base. James Crowe, one of the students and a construction contractor by profession, saw this firsthand during the visit.

CSU students in Nairobi

“It’s amazing to see the great relationship that exists between the Coca-Cola brand and its customers,” he said. “What we saw at the market was a deep loyalty and genuine love for the brand...”

Part of Coca-Cola’s success in Kenya market has been attributed to its ability to connect with consumers by meeting needs beyond refreshment. Providing small-scale shop owners with simple furniture like plastic tables and chairs is just one example. The students saw that localized and individual connection with customers is making a big impact in Kenya.

“Coke is a big deal in the U.S., but it’s great to see how it has ingrained itself in the community here,” said Simone Ross, another student. “It’s nice to see how the brand is making a difference in communities through its various programs such as 5by20, which supports the empowerment of women in business.”

The broader purpose of the CSU trip extended beyond the market experience. For most of the students, this was their first visit not just to Kenya, but to Africa. With changing tides and new opportunities in the continent, Coca-Cola took the opportunity to dispel some of the myths that doing business in Africa can be risky – telling the African story from an African perspective.

“It is important for us to carry out such programs because we want to play a part in positively influencing leaders from other continents on the opportunities in Africa and the positive developments that are enabling profitable business to happen in Africa,” says Joseph Kibuchi Kimani (or JKK as he is known locally), customer and commercial leadership director at Coca-Cola in Kenya. “We also want to highlight how we are positively working with communities to change lives and make a positive difference to society, because Africa is truly open for business. We believe that the opportunities waiting to be grabbed are immense.”

The students also toured the country’s largest bottling plant, Nairobi Bottlers Ltd., where they witnessed the bottling operations and interacted with employees who shared their experiences of working for Coca-Cola.

“There’s a friendship culture and a whole lot of happiness here…” said Joe Carena, an accountant and Executive MBA student. “The bottlers and Coke have a great relationship despite being separate entities, and the employees look genuinely happy to be working for Coca-Cola.”

CSU students in Nairobi

John Hoxmeier, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate programs at CSU, organized the trip. He said he felt it was time to correct misperceptions about Africa.

“We’re trying to dispel the myth that Africa is a dangerous place,” Dr. Hoxmeier said. “Many American executives have a skewed perception of the continent, and we thought bringing the students here would show them that Africa is not only safe, but that it also has a lot of opportunities. We also wanted to show them an example of a business that is operating successfully in what many consider a challenging environment.”

Many realized what they saw in person and what they had read or heard about Africa were two different things. Partnerships like the one between Coca-Cola and CSU are helping clear up those misconceptions.

“The program is tailored to give students an authentic experience of Coca-Cola’s operations in this market and to show them what we do to make a difference in the lives of our customers, be it through supplying product, helping them make their businesses successful by providing refrigerators to keep their product cool, or engaging them in our business through our sustainability programs,” JKK concluded.

Bob Okello is the public affairs and government relations manager for Coca-Cola East Africa.