Coca-Cola's Manufacturing Challenges & Journey to Net Zero

Coca-Cola is sustaining tradition for its soft-drink fans, while building a net zero future for the communities it manufactures the drink in

In May 1886, in a pharmacy on the streets of Atlanta, Dr. John Pemberton sold the first glass of Coca-Cola. Since then, the beverage has grown into a multinational beverage company and an iconic household name brand, known for the festive 'Holidays are coming' Christmas advert to memorable celebrity partnerships, featuring artists from Taylor Swift to Elvis Presley, a glass of Coke has endured and soared in popularity. 

However, following the intensifying conflict in Gaza, a boycott of Western brands has impacted global sales of the soft drink. In Turkey, there was a 22% drop in sales in the final quarter of 2023, while a soft drink called ‘Palestine Cola’ has popped up in Sweden, providing those who want to join the boycott with another soft drink option.

While the legendary beverage cannot do anything about global conflict, Coca-Cola is improving its manufacturing processes, because ‘that’s what the world wants today’, as the famous advert goes.

Coca-Cola's collaborative approach across the soft drink value chain

Coca-Cola’s bottling partners work with suppliers, wholesalers and distributors across the fizzy value chain, to create jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and retail.

“We are a global company, operating as a local business. This means we have a major local economic and employment multiplier effect in the communities we serve,” said Michael Goltzman, Senior Vice President, Coca-Cola Global Public Policy, Environmental Sustainability and Social Impact. “When a consumer buys one of our beverages, it was likely made by local employees in a local manufacturing facility using ingredients and packaging sourced locally and distributed by a local retailer.” 

Coca-Cola Consolidated, the biggest Coca-Cola soda bottler in the US, recently said it will invest up to US$15m to grow its regional manufacturing centre in Monroe, North Carolina.

The expansion will include a new paint booth, high-pressure cleaning equipment and training workstations for employees. This is expected to be finished in 2025 and add several new skilled technical jobs at the centre. 

Coca-Cola's journey to net zero starts in manufacturing 

At the other end of the manufacturing chain, is the volume of waste created from a glass of Coca-Cola and how to reduce it. Now, many manufacturers are looking at the whole lifespan of an item and how to divert it from landfill or going to rot in the sea.

The company aims to be net zero by 2040, in alignment with Coca-Cola’s philosophy to support the socio-economic development of its communities and to make a positive environmental impact - both of which the company sees as integral to its growth. 

One option for Coca-Cola, is to install a Deposit and Return Scheme (DRS). This is when a charge is applied to a drinks bottle or can, which regular Coca-Cola consumers can claim back when they return the container to a retailer.

Julian Hunt Vice-President at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners said that there needs to be more incentive for people to recycle drinks containers. 

“It’s been a pretty darn successful launch built on pragmatism and collaboration," Julian said.

While this sounds like an excellent idea from a consumer angle and environmental standpoint, collection spots would need to be managed, in addition to the transportation of recyclable containers.

In the face of celebrity brand deals and international boycotts, Coca-Cola is facing its environmental obligations by updating its manufacturing processes, but it will need retailers and governments on board, to reach its goals.

Upon the announcement of Coca-Cola’s desire to reach net zero by 2040, Zoran Bogdanovic, CEO of Coca-Cola HBC, highlighted how supporting people and planet was good for the company. 

“Although we don’t yet have all the answers, our plan, track record and partnership approach give us confidence that we will deliver,” said Zoran.


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