Coca-Cola: 125 Years Of Making Friends

As Coca-Cola celebrates its 125th anniversary, we look back on its extraordinary journey and continued African adventure. Who knows when the first sip of Coke was enjoyed on African soil? Imports of Coca-Cola into Africa started in 1928 and bottling in 1940, but long before that, perhaps a few decades before, a bottle of what […]


As Coca-Cola celebrates its 125th anniversary, we look back on its extraordinary journey and continued African adventure.

Who knows when the first sip of Coke was enjoyed on African soil?

Imports of Coca-Cola into Africa started in 1928 and bottling in 1940, but long before that, perhaps a few decades before, a bottle of what was to become the world’s most widely enjoyed beverage could first have arrived on the dockside of an African seaport in a sailor’s kitbag or passenger’s portmanteau, or maybe even wrapped in a rug on an Arab caravan.

The event is not catalogued in The Coca-Cola Company’s long history, but we can be sure it happened and we can only conjecture when and where, and at the stir it might have caused when it was opened and satisfied a thirst somewhere on this vast territory. The popping of the anonymous cap marked the start of what The Coca-Cola Company today calls its “African adventure”. And now there is not a country on the continent where The Coca-Cola Company is not included as a way of African life.

Over 1.7bn servings of The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) products are consumed worldwide each day in virtually every country on the planet. And with Africa accounting for 7% of it, some 120m Coca-Cola products are served continent-wide every day and that number mounts daily in tune with Africa’s unstoppable economic march.

It was on 8th May 1886 that Coke, created by pharmacist Dr John Stith Pemberton, made its debut at Jacob’s Pharmacy in downtown Atlanta. Trade at the drugstore’s soda fountain was steady but unspectacular that first year at nine bottles a day. It was, however, an event unique in the soft drinks industry that went on to create a global brand valued at $67bn providing billions of moments of refreshment every day.

“The history of The Coca-Cola Company is a story of special moments – times with family and friends and special occasions when Coke was naturally there,” says the The Coca-Cola Company website. “Every person who drinks a Coke enjoys a moment of refreshment – and shares in an experience that millions of others have savoured. And all of those individual experiences combined have created a worldwide phenomenon – a truly global brand that plays its own small part on the world stage.”

“Coca-Cola’s 125th anniversary is not just about the past, it is about the future,” says William Egbe, Head of Pan-African Initiatives and President of the Coca-Cola South Africa Business Unit – the largest single market in Africa.

South Africa stakes a claim for special mention on Coke’s 125th birthday year because it was in South Africa that Coca-Cola established its African roots and from there began its great “African adventure”.

American business pioneer, glove manufacturer and civic leader William Donald Hyde had a keen eye for opportunity and he knew a good thing when he saw it.  His intuition on Coca-Cola’s prospects led to the formation of one of the early bottling partners in Africa. An energetic entrepreneur, Hyde had established a South African office to buy sheepskins for his US glove manufacturing business. Together with his sons they launched the South African Bottling Company (Sabco) in 1940 with an hourly production capacity of 75 cases of Coke regular (six ounces).

By 1995 Sabco had extended its Africanoperations to include plants in Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Namibia.

A continent-wide presence
Today The Coca-Cola Company, along with its 46 bottling partners,  operates in all countries and territories in Africa and in each the business is a local enterprise. Care is taken to source ingredients regionally, to hire locally, and to be part of those communities through consumer marketing activities, philanthropy and micro enterprise.

The Coca-Cola Company actually made its African entrance over 83 years ago with imported consignments to South Africa. By 1970 it was available continent-wide, due in large measure to the power of successful brands and the local nature of the business.

The Coke business philosophy calls for hiring local workers, supporting local businesses and suppliers, and partnering with neighbourhood distributors and retailers. Every direct job created generates between 10 and 16 others indirectly. Every player in the Coca-Cola supply chain makes money through the production, distribution and sales of the brands boosting community economic value and promoting sustainable development.

Looking ahead
The Coca-Cola Company has ambitious plans for the future and shows no signs of slowing down. It has set a goal to double the number of servings it sells globally by 2020 to a cool 3bn. In addition it has made public commitments in the areas of both job creation for women and water stewardship.

The 5 BY 20 initiative seeks to empower 5m women in 206 countries around the world within the Coca-Cola System (both the company and its network of bottling partners) by 2020 with a focus on women who own or operate small businesses. It will focus on four key business needs – business skills training, financial services, mentoring and networks, and access to technology. In essence it will connect women entrepreneurs with what they require in order to succeed.

Water is integral to The Coca-Cola Company. It is essential in manufacturing the product range and vital for growing the healthy agricultural component used in their production. As a water user, TCCC is committed to maintaining the water balance by returning to communities and nature the amount of water it uses in its production operations by 2020.

While no one company or organisation can solve the world’s water problems alone, Coca-Cola has quantified and made its commitments public and is working to assist where it can. Its water stewardship goal is focused on three areas – Reduce, Recycle, Replenish.

In Africa, RAIN (Replenish Africa Initiative) is leveraging an investment of $30m to provide over 2m people with access to clean water by 2015.

Thus far RAIN has supported or is developing a total of 42 projects in 27 countries across Africa. Fifteen are complete, 19 are ongoing, and eight are in development. These projects have benefited nearly 350,000 people with improved water supply and around 100,000 people with improved sanitation services. By 2015, RAIN will have launched over 100 water programmes across Africa.

No other product in Africa or anywhere else is so completely a member of the family and the community than Coke simply by being unobtrusive, friendly, being affordable and always refreshing.

“The Coca-Cola Company is a part of African communities,” says William Asiko, President of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation. “We recognise that our business will not succeed and grow unless the communities in which we do business are also healthy, vibrant, and growing economically and socially.”

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