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Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Asia to drive Coca Cola over next decade

WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE The soft drink company has invested more than US$1 billion in Asia in the past 12 months, especially in the Philippines, China, India and Indonesia

AP , SINGAPORE

Asia will be the biggest driver of Coca-Cola's growth over the next 10 years, the head of the world's biggest beverage company said yesterday, adding that the company had lost out by not investing enough in the region in the past.

"Asia is at the core," Neville Isdell, chairman and chief executive of the Atlanta, Georgia-based Coca-Cola Co, said during an interview.

"Because we haven't been making sufficient investments, we have underperformed the opportunities that are present in Asia," he said in Singapore on the sidelines of the two-day World Economic Forum on East Asia conference, which brought together some of the world's most influential industry leaders.

Isdell's comments came on the heels of Coca-Cola's upbeat financial results for the first quarter of this year, when its profits jumped 14 percent.

The company said its worldwide unit-case volume sales grew 6 percent -- the highest rate since 2002.

Isdell said Coca-Cola has invested more than US$1 billion over the last 12 months in Asia, particularly in the Philippines, China, India and Indonesia.

"There is no question that the biggest driver of our growth over this century, and over the next 10 years, is Asia," Isdell said.

"It's a very simple equation. It's where people are, and it's where the economic growth is and it's clearly where we are focused," he said.

"If you are not a major player in Asia you will not be a successful global company," he said.

The company's market share in Asia's non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink beverage market is "in the teens" and will become much higher in the next five years, Isdell said, without elaborating.

"We believe we will be the engine of growth for the industry," he said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Isdell talked about the acquisition strategy of Coca-Cola, which purchased Vitaminwater maker Glaceau earlier this month for US$4.1 billion.

He said Vitaminwater would be available in Asia in the next few years.

He refused to say if Coca-Cola is thinking of buying Scottish mineral water maker Highland Spring, which some analysts have valued at US$1 billion.

"We know Highland Spring is certainly not worth a billion, and certainly not worth half a billion," Isdell said.

But "we look at everything that is out there," he said, adding that acquisition will be a core strategy of Coca-Cola's expansion.

"We believe if we want to get to a critical mass in a hurry, we will go the acquisition route. The way we phrase it is, `build-buy equation all the time,'" he said.

Isdell acknowledged that the soft drinks industry in India has been set back by five years because of recent allegations that water used in soft drinks was contaminated with pesticide.

Tests later showed the allegations to be unfounded.

"But today we believe we have recovered," Isdell said, noting that Coca-Cola registered a double-digit growth in India in the first quarter.

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