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.

Preeti Gupta with solar-powered cooler

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 below.

“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 adds.

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 Cooler

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."