'Irish sugar tax won't help the fight against obesity levels and will hit cross-border trade'
Aoife Nagle of Coca-Cola tells John McGee how the company is evolving to meet changing habits and a planned sugar tax
It has been the biggest-selling Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand in the Irish market for the past 12 years but, like many other companies in the food and drink sector, Coca-Cola has had to contend with many changes in consumer habits down through the years.
As marketing manager with responsibility for the Irish market, this has presented Aoife Nagle - who worked previously for Mondelez and Kerry Group - with plenty of challenges and, indeed, opportunities.
Just how big is Coca-Cola in Ireland?
"The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling partner, Coca-Cola Hellenic, together employ more than 1,700 people on the island of Ireland.
"In total, we have 20 brands and 49 different products that are sold in thousands of retail outlets. These products range from the four Coca-Cola variants - Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Life - right through to Sprite, Powerade, Oasis, Schweppes, Fruice and Deep RiverRock. Around 97pc of everything that we sell across the island of Ireland is manufactured locally."
How have changing consumer habits and preferences impacted on the soft drinks business?
"Like many sectors of the economy, the soft drinks market has gone through a challenging few years. Reductions in household income, reduced confidence, and changing consumer trends have all impacted over the last decade.
"We in Coca-Cola have responded to this by providing Irish consumers with more product choice and variety - both in terms of Coca-Cola itself, and in terms of the broad range of brands that we market.
"In the past 10 years we have launched 17 new drinks with reduced sugar and calories and all of our major brands now have a no-sugar, no-calorie variant. Around 40pc of everything that we sell in Ireland is now a low or no-calorie beverage. Our commitment, through increased marketing spend, is to increase that to 50pc by 2020."
Soft drink manufacturers have been singled out by the Government's proposed sugar tax. Is this fair?
"Addressing obesity and improving healthy lifestyles is a major challenge - not just for industry but for all stakeholders involved. Coca-Cola is addressing that challenge by providing consumers with sufficient information to make informed choices about their consumption, reformulating our products to reduce sugar and calorie content, and marketing our drinks in a responsible manner.
"We are doing this at a time when sales of soft drinks are declining, and yet obesity levels are increasing. So the link between the two is not as obvious as many would have you believe. We are aware, however, that the Government has stated its intention to introduce a sugar tax in April 2018.
"We don't believe that this measure will have the desired public health objectives and believe that a sustainable solution could be achieved if all stakeholders worked together to develop a long-term response."
"The international evidence suggests that taxes don't work, and repeated studies rank taxation as one of the least effective interventions.
"There are also local factors to consider - such as here in Ireland the introduction of a soft drinks tax would undoubtedly impact on cross-border trade with Northern Ireland."
"There is no quick-fix solution to obesity, and that is why we have a major role to play in working with them to address that challenge"
In 2015, Coca Cola introduced a "one-brand" marketing strategy. What does this mean in practice?
"The one-brand strategy that we adopted last year unites our four Coca-Cola drinks as one brand. This allows us to market these products together while simultaneously showing consumers that they have choice when it comes to drinking Coca-Cola.
At the same time, we have doubled our media investment in our lower, no-sugar, and no-calorie variants of Coca-Cola."
As a marketer, what are the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
"Working with such high-profile products brings its own daily challenges. These can range from operating within changing regulations, juggling the need to appeal to different audiences for different products, the increasing switch to digital and online media - and continuing to deliver high-quality marketing campaigns that help keep Coca-Cola and our other products among the leading brands sold in Ireland and Northern Ireland."
Finally, with Christmas almost upon us, what can we expect from this year's ad campaigns?
"We have some really exciting plans on the way for Christmas. The Coca-Cola Christmas TV ad heralds the start of Christmas for many and it's always a great campaign to work on.
"Each Coca-Cola campaign centre around the global assets but it's the combination of this and the local amplification such as radio partnerships, shopper marketing and experiential such as the Coca-Cola Truck Tour that delivers love for the brand in Ireland."
Sunday Indo Business