MANILA, Philippines - Consumers make the brand what it is, says Guillermo Aponte, president and general manager of Coca-Cola Philippines. He is referring to what beverage favorite Coca-Cola has come to mean to the Filipino in the course of a hundred years.
Within this period, the Filipino has gone through tremendous changes, both culture-wise and personality-wise. Through these changes, the company behind the iconic beverage has grown with the people-a fact that could arguably be the reason it remains relevant today.
A Coke And A Smile
More than the beverage, Coca-Cola Philippines as a whole has been part of the Pinoy's journey through rough spots and challenging phases, as much as it has during times of triumphs and feats. Although easily seen in the ads representing various periods in 100 years, personal family photos and memories of the typical dining table, family refrigerator or neighborhood sari-sari store probably stand as better testament to the brand's presence in one's growing up years. Most of the time, a Coke meant happy times or brought, as they often remind us, a smile.
Even today, when the Pinoy is an urbanite by preference, with more mature and worldly lifestyle tastes and a more informed and greater view on health and fitness (read: no soda in diet), a growing social consciousness, an increasing sense of nationalism, while spending much of the daily hours out there and less time in the family dining table, Coca-Cola remains a part of the Pinoy life.
That's the vision that came to mind when Aponte expressed the company's gratitude to the local market. ''As we have shown in our advertising and marketing campaigns celebrating our 100th year in the country, we are thanking you (the consumers) for making the brand what it is, for giving us the choice to serve you.''
Coke, Sprite, Royal Tru Orange and all the ''sparkling drinks,'' being the top product, have gone through physical changes to grow (or shrink) with the economy and the corresponding Filipino buying habits-with bottles sizes catering to what has become the ''family size,'' ''barkada size,'' and the ''tingi'' habits of whatever times. It has remained the most popular product, but we have seen new ones like bottled water (Viva), juice drinks (Minute Maid) and bottled teas climb not just onto grocery and sari-sari store shelves, but into the Filipino's current shopping preferences as well. That's one sure sign that they've grown with the country, with the consumer always top of mind.
Once again, a celebration calls for a Coca-Cola, and happiness, of course-100 years in the Philippines. Apart from huge marketing promotions and events to celebrate and inspire happiness, Coca Cola launched four CSR programs or what they call ''Four Key Commitments'' this 2012, playing on the number 100 and honing in on some key priority areas of the nation-the youth, health, water as a resource, and Filipino women.
Empowering The Youth
The first program mentioned by Aponte is to empower the youth, ''the driver of everything we do, to close the gap in the Philippines,'' he says. Joining efforts with the Department of Education, Philippine Business for Social Progress, Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation, and Aklat, Gabay, Aruga tungo sa Pag-angat at Pag-asa (AGAPP), they have been creating more school buildings in communities where they are needed most, providing disadvantaged children in remote areas with access to basic education. Each one is called ''Little Red School House.'' Their goals are to bring 3,000 schoolteachers to at least 100 buildings, with the 100th inaugurated by the end of this year.
The next project ensures that another gap is filled-that of nutrition. Following research done by the Department of Science and Technology two years ago that revealed deficiencies among many kids today, Coca-Cola Philippines developed a program in partnership with the same agency to help children six to 12 years old in areas with high prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia nationwide. Through NutriJuice, an orange fruit drink fortified with iron, zinc, lysine and vitamins A and C, the company aims to help 100,000 children this year for free, through a 120-day school feeding program in locations identified with the help of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DepEd).
Conserving And Protecting Water As A Resource
In the past four or five years, Coca-Cola has been able to reduce their consumption in production and operations by half, but they wanted to go a step further. ''Water is the center of our big 'to give back,' so we're working on a very ambitious project which will install 100 Agos Ram Pumps in various communities all over the country,'' Aponte shares.
The project was launched in 2011 after learning about the efforts of an NGO, the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) from the Magsaysay Awards. Coca-Cola has been working with the group, with the help of Earth Day Network Philippines, to use kinetic energy in rivers, ''an ancient technology, actually,'' according to Aponte, to transport large volumes of water to upland communities without the use of electricity or fossil fuel. ''This project will benefit 100 communities, for them to live positively,'' he says.
''Women in the Philippines are drivers in the economy. They are entrepreneurs, hardworking and have many roles. Many of them are sari-sari store owners. More than 60 percent of our customers in the business are women,'' he says, adding, ''We want to empower them in entrepreneurship.'' With the help of government agency TESDA, LGUs, women's organizations, and micro-finance institutions and rural banks, the company aims to help a target of 10,000 women this year become better entrepreneurs by providing them with access to finance and financial services, to business and life skills training, and to merchandising support and business assets. Their goal is to help 100,000 of these women-entrepreneurs by 2020. ''The pilot of this program was in Palawan, and so far, it's been going well. As long as these entrepreneurs have a store and are willing to learn, the mentoring, sharing of knowledge, empowerment...the impact on our beneficiaries is more than economic; it's being able to have pride and confidence in themselves,'' shares Aponte.
A Rich History And A Promising Future
In their 100 years in the Philippines, the country, which was the largest market many years ago, now remains in the top 10 in world in volume sales. Aponte stresses, ''The Philippines is one of the fastest-growing populations in the world; there's no better place for a company of beverages. We continue to be very optimistic, and we are expanding. We opened a new plant in CDO, in order to provide more in that area. We expanded in our Sta. Rosa and Cebu plants, improving and upgrading all our facilities. We want to reach areas where Coke is not [widely] available, like in Mindanao.''
One of the secrets of the brand, he shares further, is being able to relate in a relevant way with the historical moments of the country. Coca-Cola, through its products, product innovations, marketing events and promotions, and CSR projects, has indeed been there with the Filipino through the last 100 years. As long as something new and life-changing happens, they are there. ''We have been able to respond to the changing times with our product changes as well. When the economy is high, the solos sell better; when times are bad, people tend to share. But definitely, there is always more consumption during the Christmas season, so we prepare for that each year.''
A party, a promo, instant prizes, grand draws, huge concerts. Whatever the times call for, Coca-Cola somehow finds its way into our midst. ''There will always be innovation-what can be created is really dependent on the consumers,'' Aponte ends.