Arnab Roy, vice-president and head — marketing, Coca-Cola India & Southwest Asia, believes the brand has seen a lot through the years, yet is still very relevant to consumers. Now, the company is looking to make India its third-largest market. But there’s still time for that, says Roy. Edited excerpts from an interview:
India is poised to become Coke’s third largest market. What’s going into this?
This milestone is some time away, honestly. Firstly, in terms of future potential, India continues to be one of the least-penetrated markets for non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink beverages. There’s a massive opportunity, but also a sizable operation in India. It needs continued focus to grow. The second piece is demographics. I believe India is at a point of inflection right now; there are young people — older teens and young adults — who have a high profitability to spend.
Thirdly, we know the economy: If one were to take a bet on one country which will seek consistent economic growth for the next 10 years, it’d have to be India. Lastly, we have a strong, interesting combination of beverages in our portfolio. Our company believes that India is going to be the next outside growth engine for the Coca-Cola company. And that also makes it stand out because the company is now thinking of India as a market where we will see a lot more investment, not just for us but also for other companies.
Brands have to be ready to adapt almost overnight across processes. Do you find agility difficult for legacy brands such as yours?I believe ‘legacy brands’, as a concept, is in the mind. For instance, Thums Up is a billion-dollar brand, today. Its growth has been faster than that of many Indian startups. There’s also the fact that Brand Coke has survived for 136 years.
If you think you’re a legacy brand, you’re dead. You have to reinvent yourself everyday; It’s something Coke has done. I’d love to see how many brands survive for 136 years.
Elon Musk recently tweeted about ‘buying Coke to put the cocaine back in’, apparently referring to the beverage’s original recipe that contained cocaine. Then there was Ronaldo moving a Coke bottle aside. How much do these controversies hurt the brand?
We believe that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression, and we respect that. Views and choices of players and celebrities are their personal discretion and a function of individual preferences.
How do you tackle the belief that brands such as yours are looked at as quintessentially ‘unhealthy’?
A balanced lifestyle is key to successful weight management. Food and beverages with calories, including soft drinks, can be enjoyed in moderation. We’re also innovating and expanding our portfolio to offer a wider range of great tasting beverages to suit consumer preferences. From pure indulgence to functional, all categories are important, and our brands have a distinct role to play in consumers’ lives. We know consumers may want to manage their portions, so we offer our beverages in a range of sizes to enable consumers to manage portions.
Thums Up, one of your brands, featured SRK in its recent ad. Byju’s withheld its SRK ads in the aftermath of his son Aryan Khan’s arrest. What is the brand’s stand when its ambassador or endorser seems to be touched by controversy?
Thums Up is known for its strong taste, and Shah Rukh Khan’s arduous journey is a testament to the strength of his character, which made him the perfect choice for this new campaign — ‘Soft Nahin, Toofan’.
Through the #PalatDe Olympic and Paralympic campaigns, as well as our recent partnerships with cricketers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, the brand’s core values of ‘real heroism’ came to the fore. So, it had to be none other than King Khan to represent Thums Up.
This year, you announced Coca-Cola Starlight, a space-inspired flavour. Then there’s Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Byte, inspired by gaming. How far do these gimmicky limited editions take the brand?
Coca-Cola Starlight is a consumer engagement platform which aims to delight and engage global audiences. We do not have plans on launching it in India.