Last Wednesday, we went to Coca-Cola Belgium. There, we had the chance to speak with someone working in the areas of governmental affairs and public relations in the Europe Group, getting a taste of what it was like for one of the largest non-alcoholic drink producers in Europe to interact with the public sphere.
As a company with over 600 products in 38 European markets, Coca-Cola’s Europe Group has to deal with a large number of areas and issues spanning its vast supply chain. It is in dialogue with governmental institutions at both the national and EU levels, for issues that range across agriculture, production, packaging, transportation, refrigeration, sales, consumption, and disposal. In particular, we touched on many issues, including the environment and health.
The environment is affected at every step of Coca-Cola’s supply chain, but what was surprising to me was that refrigeration was a such a contributing factor in the company’s impact on the environment––I thought something like transportation would be more important. It turns out that the company produces a lot of their products are produced locally, transportation isn’t as much a significant factor. On the other hand, Coca-Cola branded refrigerators used by retailers are owned by the company, making refrigeration factor into their environmental footprint, and in fact make up over 80% of that.
Being a very visible part of the issue of health in society, Coca-Cola ultimately has to do something about the issue, even if the company’s products don’t make up a significant amount of the average person’s consumption. Thus, the company has provided a number of solutions such as making it mandatory for retailers to offer all Coca-Cola product categories and sizes so that the consumer could choose adequately, committing to a no-targeted-marketing policy towards children, sponsoring and supporting sports, and even creating in Europe (alongside other industry partners) their own nutrition facts label that was eventually adopted by government legislation.
Ultimately, two things in particular stood out to me from the discussion. The speaker heavily emphasised the need for the company to provide solutions to problems and their goal of complying with laws and regulations before they come into effect, since public trust in Coca-Cola was crucial to the continued success of the company and that it was much easier to adjust before a laws and regulations than to waste time fighting. These two key points underscored the company’s successes in the European Union and elsewhere, and really showed us just how much the speaker understood working with the public sphere. Overall, I highly enjoyed our visit to Coca-Cola Belgium and felt like I gained a lot of understanding into the company’s operations, and its relations with governments and publics, especially within Europe.