Coke’s top test lab opens in SA

The Coca-Cola contour bottle, South
African style. (Image: Coca-Cola)

Janine Erasmus

Coca-Cola, the world’s top beverage manufacturer, has opened a state-of-the-art laboratory complex in Midrand, north of Johannesburg. The African Technical Centre is Coca-Cola’s most technologically advanced facility globally, the company says.

Built in a year at a cost of R46.6-million (US$6-million) and opened earlier in 2008, the new centre tests Coca-Cola products from 162 bottlers in 56 African countries. Finished products, raw materials and waste are tested every month to ensure African-produced Coca-Cola products consistently keep to the high standard they have already set.

The Midrand facility offers analytical and technical support, conducting physical and chemical tests that include temperature, pressure, water quality and acid content. It will have a staff complement of 32 skilled employees, of which 19 will be new jobs.

Coca-Cola South Africa president William Egbe said at the opening ceremony that the company’s substantial investment was proof of its belief in South Africa as a place to do business, and was not deterred by the recent power crisis. Egbe added that Coca Cola will use South Africa as the basis for its activities across the continent.

Minister of Science and Technology Mosibudi Mangena was also in attendance at the opening ceremony, and said that the centre would help to promote good laboratory practice in South Africa. It would also uplift the African region and contribute valuable skills.

“It will also leverage analytical capability, increase employment opportunities, and trigger innovation within the chemical industry,” he said. “We regard the Africa Technical Centre as a good example of your commitment to the upliftment of both industry and our people, leading to higher levels of economic growth and development, particularly through science and technology.

According to Mangena, Coca-Cola directly contributes about R8.4-billion ($1.1-billion) to South Africa’s GDP and, directly and indirectly, is responsible for a remarkable 1.4% of the country’s GDP.

Coca-Cola vice-president Carletta Ooton added that the company had invested in the most sophisticated analytical equipment available, and would use the laboratory as part of its strategy to build a greater understanding of its ingredients and products, as well as support global innovation and sustainable business values.

Coca-Cola will open four other such facilities around the globe. One has already been established in China and the others will open in Mexico, Belgium and the US by the end of 2009.

Supporting developing markets

Coca-Cola’s director of global laboratory operations John Ward says the trio of facilities would ensure product quality and support the company’s long-term growth in developing markets. “We need to extend our technical capability throughout those regions at a local level.”

Ward said that the company was previously focused mainly on its headquarters in Atlanta, US, and European regional base in Brussels.

According to Brandchannel.com, Coca-Cola is South Africa’s most admired brand name, and the leader in overall brand awareness, achieving a rating of 42%. South Africa is the company’s largest market in Africa, outselling by two-and-a-half times the next biggest market Nigeria, and accounting for 40% of the company’s entire African revenue.

In 2006 Coca-Cola relocated its Africa region headquarters from Windsor in the UK to Johannesburg, indicating its commitment to its African, and particularly South African, market.

A solid reputation

Coca-Cola South Africa has been named as the country’s third most reliable company, according to the 2008 Reputation Institute survey, which was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. It came in behind cellular provider Vodacom in the top position, followed by petrol manufacturer Sasol. The margins between the companies were very small, with Vodacom scoring 71.56%, Sasol 71.38% and Coca-Cola SA 71.18%.

Coca-Cola in South Africa is manufactured and distributed by Amalgamated Beverage Industries (ABI), which in turn is part of the SABMiller stable. SABMiller bought out ABI’s minority shareholders in 2004 and delisted the company from the JSE stock exchange. SABMiller then sold ABI to its South African division, the South African Breweries.

ABI, which originally listed on the JSE in 1989, and Coca-Cola have worked together under a franchise agreement for three decades, and ABI also distributes, Schweppes, Sparletta and Appletiser products in South Africa, as well as the Nestlé brand Nestea and a range of other juices, energy drinks and flavoured waters.

The company operates six manufacturing plants around the South Africa, employing some 3 700 people, and its plants in Durban, Midrand and Pretoria, in particular, are regarded as world-class facilities.

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