Jacques Vermeulen. Supplied
JOHANNESBURG - There is always something new out of Africa, the ancient Greeks used to say. Back then, the proverb referred to the continent’s extraordinary diversity, but today it can be applied to the accelerating pace of change as Africa begins to reshape its economic destiny.

It’s an exciting time to be an African business. This is a youthful continent, experiencing the most rapid urbanisation rate in the world and, by 2034, it is expected to boast a larger working-age population than either China or India.

Accelerating technological change and rapid adoption of mobile telephony are helping to unlock new opportunities for consumers and businesses, while governments are increasingly conscious of the legislative and policy levers that must be activated to accelerate economic development.

For a business to compete in this environment demands agility and relentless innovation, to deliver new products that meet the evolving expectations of consumers, new skills to meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, new processes to adapt to new technology and the fast-changing operating environment, and, in the case of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA), also new packaging solutions that respond to environmental concerns and the preferences of consumers.

From a product portfolio point of view, CCBA has 508 different products in the nine African markets where CCBA’s international division operates - Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia and Ghana as well as the islands of Comoros and Mayotte. That is 65percent more than last year. Some of them are old favourites such as Coca-Cola itself but many are new like the group's hydration range of energy drinks and water, teas and coffees,nutrition juice and even value-added dairy drinks. The aim, together with the Coca-Cola company, is to become a total beverage company, and in this context the company is continuously bringing new products to the market in response to changing consumer preferences.

Fundamental to the innovation is increased investment and local sourcing of raw products. As an example, in Kenya, the group is already sourcing local fruit pulp for the manufacture of Minute Maid Mango.

It continues to invest across all markets in products that respond to changing consumer tastes and preferences, as it seeks to increasingly draw on local inputs as part of its commitment to source locally some of the ingredients it currently import. It has an ambitious target to substantially increase local sourcing by 2022.

This is reflective of the belief that the company's growth is directly linked to the development of the African economy.

As we invest in local production capacity, we also invest in our people, building the skills of our workforce to meet not only the requirements of our business, but the broader economy too, thus enhancing the productivity and growth potential of the continent itself.

Before we put in a new line of products, employees spend several months in the manufacturer’s facility in the country of origin, fine-tuning the skills needed to bring those products to market at the high-quality standards set.


Some of this involves reducing sugar in the drinks, giving consumers options of diet, light or even zero-sugar drinks. It also involves introducing new packaging which reduces portions as we combine scientific research with the changing tastes and dietary preferences of consumers.

Innovation takes courage and when we succeed, everyone succeeds. In Ethiopia, we built a factory at a location where there was no other development but once other companies saw what we had done, they started looking for investment opportunities themselves. Today, the plant is run by local employees, all of whom are under the age of 30.

Along with the many opportunities on offer, Africa presents unique challenges. In the vast, yet sparsely populated Namibia, we had to completely revamp our coastal route to market to ensure our products were always available and perfectly chilled. We closed an old depot and replaced it with new official Coca-Cola distributors - successfully serving more than 368 retail customers better than ever. We’re finding local solutions for local challenges.

Many of our partner businesses- especially the retailers - now employ other people, having benefited from the many mentorship and small-business programmes we run. We are determined to turn survivalist businesses into sustainable, growing businesses.

We run a range of community empowerment and environmental stewardship programmes - with a special focus on women and youth development.

We share the aspirations of Africans and their governments. Economies succeed as a result of innovative thinking. Everyone benefits when companies do what they know best and keep their focus on growth for all. We want to help build a better Africa and have the will and imagination to help make this happen.

Jacques Vermeulen is managing director of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa International Division.