Ten years ago, The Coca-Cola Company created a new division, which would bring the same focus on excellence to company-owned bottlers that we bring to everything else we do. 

The Coca-Cola Company is, at its core, a franchise business. It is in that context we can understand the fundamental role of Bottling Investments Group, (BIG): To manage bottling assets the company owns and hold them to the same standards and expectations we have for any franchise, wherever it is around the world. 

BIG manages bottling operations in 19 markets representing more than 25 percent of the system volume. Through our combined operations today, we are the largest global bottler for The Coca-Cola Company.

We now manage our bottling assets the same way we would expect anyone else to, but always with the view that it is a transitional process. Over time -- and that time could be short, medium, or long -- these bottlers will rotate back out and become franchise bottlers. Our vision when we started was to become a model bottler, investing for the long-term in infrastructure, capability and building the right culture to ensure a sustainable healthy business, irrespective of who owns it in the future. 

When the company created the group, we owned a handful of bottlers, scattered across the world in markets like Brazil, India, Pakistan, Norway/Sweden, Zimbabwe and even Philadelphia.  Every bottler that transitioned in to BIG faced a different and distinct set of issues. All of our bottlers are in unique markets facing unique challenges. While there are no consistent opportunities across the bottlers that are part of our group, we all share the same goal of increasing efficiencies and revenues. Those bottlers referenced earlier, who emerged from BIG, continue to perform at high-levels.

BIG 10 Years
A Coca-Cola Ambassador-branded production plant in Shanghai.

If I reflect back on our approach, BIG applied a strategic framework to help us implement key strategic initiatives in supply chain, sales, revenue and profit generation. To underpin this focus, we build leadership capability at all levels and we have developed a suite of world-class development programs from front-line supervisor to senior executive. People, leadership and culture are at the heart of what we do.

In the last three years, we have assumed the operations of bottlers in places such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Guatemala and Bangladesh. These bottlers coming in to our operations are a clear sign that we’re delivering on the mission that we outlined when we formed. Bottlers come in to BIG and leave in better shape. The end result of our work is a healthier bottling system and healthier company.

Our priority is to maintain the same level of integrity about building successful businesses while being transparent around the tenure of how long we own these operations. We focus on developing talent so when a business gets re-franchised there are many good people going with them. It also provides talent for ourselves internally. As we bring in other bottlers, we have people who know and understand the essential role bottling plays within the company. 

BIG 10 Years
BIG associates in Vietnam celebrate at an annual awards ceremony.

The strongest indicators of the improved health of each company-owned bottler are volume and revenues. We build for the long-term, avoiding a quarter to quarter mentality. Taking a quick fix approach then selling only kicks the problem to somebody else and that ultimately erodes value across our bottling system. Every business we have taken on we face up to the challenge and try to build the business for long-term sustainable growth. If it takes a number of years to rebuild the kind of profitability we expect and we are okay with that. In some instances, we have lost money at the start, but increasingly, year-over-year, we see better and better performance.

We sell our investments for a fair value when our long-term interests are aligned with the right partner who has the capabilities and a proven management team. Of course, that partner needs to be strong financially, have a willingness to invest in the business and have a strong culture and engagement. 

Irial Finan
Irial Finan

As I think about the next 10 years, it is my hope that BIG will continue to create such a strong culture of performance and improvement within The Coca-Cola Company’s journey that we are no longer needed. We strive to create a culture where all of our bottlers will be owned and operated to the highest standards by our franchise partners. That is the goal.

Prior to our formation, a chorus of people would have said the company doesn’t know how to run bottlers. 

Today, the bottling community and the company will acknowledge that we know how to run a bottler and how to manage it successfully. While the company does not consider bottling to be a part of our core business, BIG is playing a critical role in moving our system to a path of growth and profitability through the management of these critically important assets. 

Irial Finan is executive vice president, The Coca-Cola Company, and president of bottling investments and supply chain.