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by By Staff Reporter
01 September 2023
Associate Feature: Cool operators

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Associate Feature: Cool operators

Now – and for the foreseeable future – almost all of us are making do with less. Experian, the analytics and consumer credit reporting company, has forecast that the continuing cost-of-living crisis will result in an average drop of 19.7 per cent in discretionary spending throughout 2023, after the essential bills have been paid. 

Jim Fox, head of public affairs for Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) GB, agrees that shoppers are often moving from brand to brand and retailer to retailer to get the best value they can. “They’re rising to the challenge of inflation, and we want to be recognised as good value – while still maintaining the quality of our distinctive brands.”

On the wider stage though, the world’s largest Coca-Cola bottler, which sells more than four billion bottles and cans of its market-leading brands in Great Britain every year, is also urgently engaged in addressing the global climate emergency, significantly investing in sustainability projects at its site in East Kilbride and across Great Britain.

This represents something of a balancing act for any company: “We’re trying to keep people well paid and well supported plus continuing to invest in skills and development. You must manage for today while looking to the future.”

CCEP, Fox says, has set an ambition to reach net zero by 2040 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

“We are committed to growing our business in a sustainable way. Everyone has a role to play in that, but it will be driven by big businesses like Coca-Cola acting as exemplars in that transition.”

The company vision has long, medium and short-term objectives and while the 2040 goal is clearly long-term, changes already implemented are vital to achieving that. Impressively, all CCEP’s GB sites have been powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity for more than 10 years, including at East Kilbride, which has delivered a 47 per cent reduction in the site’s carbon footprint on 2010 levels and sends zero waste to landfill. 

Another part of the long-term strategy concerns packaging: “This represents some 40 per cent of carbon emission in the business and in some cases has been removed entirely while bottles and cans are lighter and 100 per cent recycled material is used for many packs.”

CCEP was the first large multinational to support Scotland’s decision to develop a deposit return scheme (DRS) though the journey since then, he concedes, has been more complex with a further delay in its implementation.

“DRS has been a proven success in many of the markets that we work in, and it’s essential that we implement that process as soon as possible but we’ve also got to look at wider solutions, such as refillable glass, returnable glass and refillable PET plastics in different marketplaces across Europe.”

With important lessons learned from DRS in these areas, the company will now work closely with industry groups to ensure it makes good progress towards schemes going live in England, Scotland and Wales in October 2025.

At East Kilbride and at its sites across GB, CCEP is investing £11m over the next five years which will see its 200-strong fleet of material handling equipment (MHE), including some gas-powered forklift trucks replaced with units powered by lithium-ion batteries.   

Transportation is another issue being tackled as the company works with its supply chain partners to increase the volume of product transported by rail to reduce emissions.

“As East Kilbride is our most northerly site in GB, it makes sense for it to be a key part of the transition from road to rail, an important part of our This is Forward sustainability strategy and our overall roadmap to net zero,” says Fox.

At full capacity, the change will see up to 18,000 loads of CCEP’s products (some 2.5million cans and bottles) delivered by rail per day, reducing carbon emissions by nearly 50 per cent compared to previous road operations.

Most of Coca-Cola’s brand sales are made in shops and supermarkets but hotels, pubs and clubs are major clients who are also keen to take on an active role in the drive toward sustainability.

“To work toward net zero in in the medium term, we’re helping customers in the hospitality industry on their own carbon reduction journeys through the Net Zero Pubs, Bars and Restaurants initiative, of which we’re a founding partner, alongside Net Zero Now, the Sustainable Restaurant Association and Pernod Ricard. 

“We’re now working with 2,800 pubs, clubs, hotels and restaurants in that programme as they are part of our carbon chain and to ensure that our overall carbon footprint is as low as it can possibly be, we must also reduce the carbon of our suppliers and our customers.”

In the short term, the company is making progress through several sustainability initiatives. “Our East Kilbride site for example, recently became CCEP’s first in Great Britain to manufacture our new 1.5 litre bottles of Coca-Cola Original Taste and Diet Coke with attached caps, part of £32m in investment made there since 2017.”

This new feature means that the lid remains attached to its bottle, preventing it from being discarded or thrown away separately.  “It’s a relatively small improvement that forms an important part of the bigger move to reduce the impact of our packaging in the medium and long-term future.

It’s also integral to the investment in important sustainability projects in a wider €250m (£220m) investment programme launched by the business last year across Europe to support its Science Based Targets to be net zero by 2040.

“Every time we invest in a new plant and new production lines, we expect that to add value and speed but it’s now equally vital that it must be much more carbon efficient than the equipment it replaces.”

New and enhanced skills are also crucial, and Fox says CCEP is working hard to foster the next generation of Scottish talent at East Kilbride, one that will support its skills needs now and in the future.

This high level of expertise is crucial. While many people may see soft drinks manufacturing as a relatively low-tech sector of industry, nothing, he says, could be further from the truth. “Our production lines operate at very high speed with tremendous technical requirements and the people working on these lines are highly skilled engineers.”

East Kilbride has offered apprenticeships for more than 20 years, with all of them going on to secure a full-time role with the company. It is a constantly evolving programme with engineering remaining at its heart but has also developed over time to offer less traditional options.

He also notes the Scottish site’s reputation for exemplary flexibility and innovation. “When we are trialling new packs which could be hugely important to our future, but the potential is still unknown, these are likely to be incubated at East Kilbride.”

Increased diversity in CCEP’s workplace is evidenced by the fact that 40 per cent of its apprentices are female and 14 per cent are of black or Asian heritage, while 80 per cent of employees on its career builder programme have not formally studied since leaving compulsory education.

Just beyond the factory gate, adds Fox, “Community is at the heart of what we do. People see Coca-Cola as a huge, global business but at East Kilbride – as at all our sites in GB – we’re a local business employing local people. 

“We have a responsibility to that community, whether that means direct engagement with our company or indirectly through retailers so our partnerships with local charities and organisations remain hugely important.

“For example, litter is a major issue. We work with organisations such as Keep Scotland Beautiful and on other waterway regeneration projects to help in local clean-up efforts. On World Oceans Day in June we worked with Sea Life Trust on its campaign to clean beaches and waterways to reduce the amount of litter entering oceans and in Scotland we supported a clean-up at Loch Lomond.”

The ‘Support My Cause’ initiative lets colleagues nominate a charity close to their heart, with fellow employees voting for winners to receive funding and last year Allan French, a staff member at East Kilbride, nominated Glasgow-based refugee charity Refuweegee for a donation from CCEP’s Community Fund, with the charity also receiving volunteering support from employees.

Looking ahead, despite the turbulence of recent years and the continuing cost-of-living crisis, the feeling is, Fox says, that some degree of normality, if a somewhat different one, has emerged. 

“There was an extended period in which it was very difficult to see what was going to happen next. Now, the UK’s governments must recognise the exceptional challenges the industry faces, and we understand that they must push ahead with their own initiatives, so the willingness to make progress must come from both sides.”

He is proud of CCEP’s performance in the context of a difficult economic background: “Of course there are still major challenges, but we at least can see a route through them. Uncertainty is what we don’t like; taking on the challenges is the day job.” 

This article is sponsored by Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP)

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