As the world's leading beverage company and global brand (with a brand valuation of US$68.7 billion in 2009 according to Interbrand), the Coca-Cola Company has a total of some 500 beverage brands, from diet and regular sparkling beverages to still drinks like fruit juices and fruit drinks, waters, sports and energy drinks, teas and coffees, and milk-and soy-based beverages. Globally, Coca-Cola has the world's largest beverage distribution system serving consumers in more than 200 countries a colossal 1.6 billion servings a day. Some of the firm's beverage brands include the ubiquitous Coke, Nestea, Powerade, Ice Dew, Georgia Coffee, Sprite, Fanta, vitaminwater, and Minute Maid.
Considered to be the number one growth market for the drinks giant, China represents the pinnacle of the company's global drinks market. Little wonder then that the company has decided to locate its Global Innovation and Technology Center (GITC) in Shanghai. At the kind invitation of Coke, I had the privilege of visiting the R&D centre, and discovering how and why the 124 year old company still dominates around the world.
Employing some 600 Coca-Cola China associates and the Pacific Group's R&D team, the GITC is one of China's few "green building". It boasts of environmental systems like rooftop solar panels, rainwater harvesting facilities, wind turbines to power street lamps, heat reflective surfaces, and other planet-friendly features.
Hmmm...what do these empty and filled bottles of Coke represent?
Ahhh.... the filled bottles represent Coke's 11% share of the China non-alcoholic drink market. I suppose this shows how much more room for growth there is here.
This beautiful oil painting shows the different Olympic and world-class Chinese athletes like hurdler Liu Xiang and basketballer Yao Ming alongside the Coke brand.
As part of the tour, we were given an exclusive peek at how the formula for different drinks products were created. They include not just the sweetness, colour and taste, but the way the bubbles fizz and the scent of the beverage. About 50 to 60 new products are created at any one time.
We also visited a section of the centre where the shape and material composition of the various drink bottles are created and tested for various properties like strength, ability to be compressed (for recycling purposes like the amazing iLOHAS bottle below), beauty of shape, etc.
NB - photos of this lab were not allowed due to sensitivity.
As we proceeded on with the tour, I couldn't help noticing that every corner of the huge laboratory was colourfully branded. They include staff lounging areas like this.
As well as lift lobbies which were brightly adorned with posters. Thanks to Motohiko Tokuriki for striking a nice pose here!
To tap on the ideas of staff working in the centre, the GITC has branded suggestion boxes (with the Live Positively icon) available.
Posters like these helped to motivate employees to give that little bit extra to reach the final goal.
A roomful of Asia-Pacific bloggers (invited like me) at a tasting room. Apparently, there were occasional chefs invited by the company to create new recipes to go with Coke's stable of non-alcoholic drinks.
These brightly coloured cushioned chairs were handy for briefing and training sessions. During the briefing, I learnt that Coke researchers work closely with supply chain, procurement, consumer insights and technical development groups, as well as bottlers and retailers. This ensured that the players in the value chain provided their inputs to the company.
More chill-out ideation zones. According to research, it has been shown that a relaxed work environment works better because brain synapses work better in cooler temperatures. Alright!
An occasional game of table soccer doesn't hurt in stimulating those neural impulses too!
Some of these posters helped provided clues on the importance of fun at work. Behavioural psychology concepts like huddling and signalling were also applied during group brainstorming sessions.
After a hard morning touring the premises, nothing refreshes like a cold drink.
One can easily pick up a beverage of choice from the many freely available drink coolers around the centre.
Our final stop on the labyrinthine laboratory tour was the KO Lab which looked at collaborations with customers. The first section was an immersive computer video room with 360 degree visuals, surround sound, and sliding panels and tables. We were quite awed by the drinks which suddenly appeared on our table! It was certainly a theatrical and cinematic experience.
An example of a mock-up store (source) At the KO Lab, there were different sections featuring fully-stocked mock-up retailers and distributors of Coca-Cola beverage products like convenience stores, restaurants, bars, and even karaoke rooms. The company helps its clients to design restaurant menus, posters, and point-of-sale materials featuring its beverages, and are able to provide detailed sales figures and consumer consumption patterns to its sellers.
(Unfortunately, due to sensitivity reasons, photographs were not allowed here too.)
After the tour, we took a walk through a beautiful garden in the middle of the centre. Like its other "green" features, this helps to reduce the overall carbon load of the complex.
The huge staff canteen served lots of different nutritious lunch options for employees, all courtesy of the company. Of course, they all come with complimentary non-alcoholic thirst quenchers!
A final photo of myself, posting beside an artistically rendered giant bottle of Coke. Cheers to more refreshing times ahead!