Coca-Cola India has installed more than 300 solar coolers, and
another 1,000 units are being deployed in rural and semi-urban areas.
As the morning sun’s first rays begin to warm up the
villages surrounding Agra, India, a few cases of Coca-Cola inside Preeti
Gupta’s shop begin to cool down. A few hours later, the glass bottles are chilled
and ready to refresh thirsty customers.
Gupta received a solar-powered “eKOCool” cooler from
Coca-Cola India, which developed the unit specifically for retailers in rural
areas, where an estimated 60 percent of the population lacks electricity (and where
those with access to the grid only have power a few hours each day). Rooftop
solar panels are linked to the chest-style coolers installed inside the store
“Coca-Cola has made a huge contribution to us,” says the
mother of three, noting that up to one-third of her store’s daily revenue comes
from Coca-Cola sales.
The sustainable innovation helps shopkeepers like Gupta sell
ice-cold drinks – a bit of a novelty in “off-the-grid” communities – without
ice or electricity.
One Stop Shop
The “eKOCool” coolers also feature ports for charging
lanterns and mobile phones. “We charge our lantern in the daytime so we can use
it at night when we are out of electricity,” says Gupta, who often goes without
power for days at a time, usually without warning.
“And customers come to our shop when see the light,” she
Villagers walk in to charge their phones and, while waiting,
end up spending more. Thanks to her solar-power cooler, Gupta can keep her shop
open after dark when others have closed, and her children can study at night
using the light provided by her fully charged lantern.
Paving the Way
The “eKOCool” project is part of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative to empower 5 million women
entrepreneurs across its global value chain by 2020. Like many women in her
village – where dusty roads are filled with children playing, horses pulling
bullock carts and motorbikes buzzing by – Gupta was expected to stay at home
and care for her family, but she was determined to give her children a chance
at a better life. She and her husband borrowed money from relatives and a local
bank, and even mortgaged their personal belongings, to open a small store
inside their home. In addition to Coca-Cola and other beverages, they sell
grains, snacks and other household goods.
“The most important moment in my life was when I started my
own shop,” says Gupta, who invests her earnings in health care for her family
and her kids’ education.
From Concept to
The “eKOCool” project was conceived several years ago when
Atul Singh, president of Coca-Cola India, discovered that rural outlets in
Uttar Pradesh and other remote areas were using conventional ice chests – with
very little ice – to stock and sell beverages. The Coca-Cola India Technical
team partnered with Mumbai-based Western Refrigeration to develop the prototype
before launching a series of pilot tests. Sales at participating retailers have
increased significantly since installing the units.
More than 1,000 solar coolers have been installed in India,
to date, boosting Coke's presence considerably in rural areas.
"These coolers are bringing first-time customers who never
tasted our beverages before,” says Asim Parekh, vice president, Technical,
Coca-Cola India, who notes that markets such as South Africa and Turkey are adapting
and testing the units. “The model is helping create a market in areas where
Coke has not been present at all."