Coca-Cola CEO says company can grow in tough times
April 22, 2009
Coca-Cola Co. sees a chance to increase its market share during the economic slowdown and doesn''t plan to waste the opportunity, the chief executive of the world''s largest beverage maker told shareholders in Atlanta, reports the Associated Press. Muhtar Kent said at the company''s annual meeting that Coca-Cola was poised to grow in these tough times as it did during the Great Depression. Kent said it was possible that Coca-Cola would miss its growth targets a quarter or two this year. The company said the strong dollar could mean missed targets this year. But Kent vowed that the company is committed to meeting or exceeding those targets over time. He said the company sees opportunities in pushing its top brands like Coca-Cola in emerging markets like China and in ones where it has solid footing, such as the U.S. and Mexico. The company is also pushing a new economical 16-ounce, 99-cent version of its top brands. The company also said consumers overseas bought more of its products in the three-month period ending in March, but North American volume fell as consumers pulled back on their spending. Investors were concerned about the drag of the U.S. dollar, which hurts companies that do business overseas as it gains strength. As in previous years, the gathering drew protesters. They were kept about 150 yards from the front entrance of the conference center. A rolling billboard attached to a truck with the words, "Unthinkable, Undrinkable" on the side passed through the parking lot every few minutes. Inside the meeting, a few hundred shareholders gathered. Several addressed the board, some of them vocal, yelling questions past their allotted time and attempting to disrupt the meeting. The critics have been concerned about Coca-Cola''s human rights record and business practices abroad. The company was asked about the potential that it would follow in PepsiCo footsteps and buy up its bottlers. Kent said that Coca-Cola felt its franchise relationship with its bottlers was strong and was helping the company save money and operate well. Other shareholders asked about executive pay and the makeup of the board, urging the board to have younger members. They also asked about the company''s use of water and the location of annual meetings, asking that they be held in Atlanta more often.