As the world’s leading beverage company and global brand (with a brand valuation of US$68.7 billion in 2009 according to Interbrand), the Coca-Cola Company has a total of some 500 beverage brands, from diet and regular sparkling beverages to still drinks like fruit juices and fruit drinks, waters, sports and energy drinks, teas and coffees, and milk-and soy-based beverages. Globally, Coca-Cola has the world’s largest beverage distribution system serving consumers in more than 200 countries a colossal 1.6 billion servings a day. Some of the firm’s beverage brands include the ubiquitous Coke, Nestea, Powerade, Ice Dew, Georgia Coffee, Sprite, Fanta, vitaminwater, and Minute Maid.
Considered to be the number one growth market for the drinks giant, China represents the pinnacle of the company’s global drinks market. Little wonder then that the company has decided to locate its Global Innovation and Technology Center (GITC) in Shanghai. At the kind invitation of Coke, I had the privilege of visiting the R&D centre, and discovering how and why the 124 year old company still dominates around the world.
Employing some 600 Coca-Cola China associates and the Pacific Group’s R&D team, the GITC is one of China’s few “green building”. It boasts of environmental systems like rooftop solar panels, rainwater harvesting facilities, wind turbines to power street lamps, heat reflective surfaces, and other planet-friendly features.
As part of the tour, we were given an exclusive peek at how the formula for different drinks products were created. They include not just the sweetness, colour and taste, but the way the bubbles fizz and the scent of the beverage. About 50 to 60 new products are created at any one time.
We also visited a section of the centre where the shape and material composition of the various drink bottles are created and tested for various properties like strength, ability to be compressed (for recycling purposes like the amazing iLOHAS bottle below), beauty of shape, etc.
NB – photos of this lab were not allowed due to sensitivity.
As well as lift lobbies which were brightly adorned with posters. Thanks to Motohiko Tokuriki for striking a nice pose here!
To tap on the ideas of staff working in the centre, the GITC has branded suggestion boxes (with the Live Positively icon) available.
A roomful of Asia-Pacific bloggers (invited like me) at a tasting room. Apparently, there were occasional chefs invited by the company to create new recipes to go with Coke’s stable of non-alcoholic drinks.
These brightly coloured cushioned chairs were handy for briefing and training sessions. During the briefing, I learnt that Coke researchers work closely with supply chain, procurement, consumer insights and technical development groups, as well as bottlers and retailers. This ensured that the players in the value chain provided their inputs to the company.
Our final stop on the labyrinthine laboratory tour was the KO Lab which looked at collaborations with customers. The first section was an immersive computer video room with 360 degree visuals, surround sound, and sliding panels and tables. We were quite awed by the drinks which suddenly appeared on our table! It was certainly a theatrical and cinematic experience.
An example of a mock-up store (source)
At the KO Lab, there were different sections featuring fully-stocked mock-up retailers and distributors of Coca-Cola beverage products like convenience stores, restaurants, bars, and even karaoke rooms. The company helps its clients to design restaurant menus, posters, and point-of-sale materials featuring its beverages, and are able to provide detailed sales figures and consumer consumption patterns to its sellers.
(Unfortunately, due to sensitivity reasons, photographs were not allowed here too.)