Helping create a healthier food environment in Europe

  By: Nikos Koumettis, President of Coca-Cola Central and Eastern Europe

While its flagship brand has remained the same for over a century, The Coca-Cola Company is changing more than ever as it transforms to become a Total Beverage Company.

Nikos Koumettis, president of Coca-Cola Central and Eastern Europe, and member of UNESDA’s Executive Committee, outlines his determination to help create a healthier food environment for consumers in Europe, while positively contributing to communities and economies across the EU. 

What is driving this transformation at Coca-Cola?

Our success has always been built on serving consumers with the drinks they want. While people love our brands, we also know that consumer tastes are changing and people want us to change with them. Concerns about obesity and health mean more people want more natural ingredients, drinks with nutrition and benefits and often less sugar. We have been responding to this by reshaping our business, portfolio, and recipes to reduce sugar and calories, introduce new drinks, and much more with a culture centered on innovation. We already serve more than 3,900 products around the world, and now we’re further stepping up our efforts to become a Total Beverage Company with a broader portfolio than ever.

“As an industry that provides consumers with food and drinks containing calories we ultimately have a responsibility — and opportunity — to contribute to this challenge and work on the risk factors that are preventable.”

What role can the food and beverage industry play in addressing Europe’s health challenges?

We face a paradox where the world is generally becoming healthier, but NCDs, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, now represent the most common cause of bad health. As an industry that provides consumers with food and drinks containing calories we ultimately have a responsibility — and opportunity — to contribute to this challenge and work on the risk factors that are preventable. We’ve been reflecting a lot on the part our drinks play in people’s lives, and listening to consumers and stakeholders, and we agree too much sugar isn’t good for anyone. While soft drinks account for just 2-3 percent of typical calorie consumption, UNESDA is uniting the soft drinks industry behind a common purpose of progress and as the leading beverage company, we will be at the forefront of this change.

What steps are you taking to reduce sugar?

We already have momentum. Over the past 10 years, our Company has reduced added sugars by 11 percent in Europe alone. We’ve reformulated more than 150 drinks since 2010, and brands like Fanta and Sprite now have 30 percent less sugar in many countries. What we put in our bottles is only one part of the story — we’re also focused on what’s “outside the bottle” — meaning smaller packs, clear information and continuing our 60+ year commitment to never advertise to children under 12. The industry is also making strong progress – last year UNESDA pledged to reduce added sugars by a further 10 percent by 2020, and remains the only sector to have made such a sugar reduction commitment at European level.

What are some of the new drinks we can expect to see in Europe?

We’re introducing brands in entirely new categories like organic tea, coconut water, smoothies, and purified water. We’re creating new recipes, and bringing others to Europe from around the world. Two of our largest launches this year are ready-to-drink tea and plant-based drinks. FUZE Tea is launching in 37 countries across Europe this year. Over the next few months we’ll introduce AdeZ in 17 countries, which is a dairy-alternative smoothie that contains seeds, vitamins, and juices, and no added sugars. We saw the “healthy snacking” trend emerging across Europe and redesigned a successful international brand to suit European tastes.

“We’re determined to help create a healthy food environment in Europe and we are committed to supporting and accelerating what works, which is why reducing sugar from our drinks is such a top priority.”

What is your perspective on proposals for soft drinks taxes?

Obesity and NCDs are extremely complex problems and the right answers aren’t always the simple ones. Experience from around the world shows no evidence that a tax on soft drinks helps to reduce obesity. We’re determined to help create a healthy food environment in Europe and we are committed to supporting and accelerating what works, which is why reducing sugar from our drinks is such a top priority. We’ve already seen consumer behavior changing, but we know there is much more work to be done.

How much of a concern is childhood obesity?

It’s a great concern and an area where I believe collective action can achieve great progress. Over the past four years, the EU Obesity Action Plan has spurred much progress. We identified several of the eight priorities that we can contribute to, including efforts to promote healthier environments, especially in schools. Back in 2006, the soft drinks industry removed all our drinks from primary schools across the EU, and last year we announced that we would go even further. By 2019, we will remove added sugar soft drinks from all secondary schools across Europe, which is more than 50,000 schools and 40 million schoolchildren. We have been successful in ensuring compliance in primary schools and expanding this pledge to secondary schools is an important step we all feel passionately about.

Why are you proposing a new nutrition labelling scheme for the EU?

There are many different views on how nutrition labelling should look, but I’m convinced we share a common goal — to help people make healthier food choices. Together with other leading companies, we recently called for an EU-led process to identify a single harmonized scheme, that is easy-to-understand for consumers, consistent for member countries, and scalable for businesses operating across Europe. We plan to trial Evolved Nutrition Labelling (ENL) across a majority of EU member countries, following more than a year of stakeholder engagements and consumer research. The proposed ENL scheme evolves current monochrome labels, adding colors per actual portion size, helping consumers know exactly what’s in the food and drink they enjoy.

Where should we look for the next wave of beverage innovation?

There are many exciting new drinks emerging across different categories that go far beyond soft drinks. We are extremely proud of our R&D Center based in Brussels. More than 100 scientists and experts are leading our transformation from the heart of the EU. Each year this team develops more than 350 innovations, and there are other innovation hotspots around the world. Japan — where 60 percent of our drinks contain low/no sugar — has always remained at the forefront of consumer innovation, and so we’re closely following the space there. But our greatest inspiration always comes from the consumers we serve, and so we’ll continue listening to them to make sure our focus never drifts from giving them the drinks they want.

As first appeared in Politico, May 2018

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