Delving deep into the latest earnings call transcript from beverage giant Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) yielded some interesting information. Here are six tidbits that you should find useful and even entertaining.
1. Coke executive defends diet soda.
There has been considerable media attention devoted to declining diet soda sales. PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) and Dr Pepper Snapple Group (NYSE: DPS ) each saw their unit sales of diet sodas decline around 8% year to date versus a 5.1% decline for Coca-Cola, according to a Beverage Daily article. In response to an analyst's question regarding public concerns over diet soda and its ingredients, Steve Cahillane, president of Coca-Cola Americas, admitted to a "bit of pressure" on its sales. However, he defended Coke's diet soda category by discussing positive activity in the 19-to-24-year-old demographic resulting from the Taylor Swift campaign. He also asserted that Coca-Cola Zero volume grew in the "mid-single digits" in the most recent quarter.
2. Teens love brand Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola wants to groom the next generation of Coke consumers. In the earnings call, Cahillane emphasized the need to "keep consumers engaged with our brands to make sure that we are in the households, to make sure that teens are being recruited." The company said that teens prefer brand Coca-Cola by a "2 to 1 margin."
3. The "growth story" is not over.
This quarter saw plenty of declining numbers for carbonated beverages. Coca-Cola managed to increase global sparkling case volume 1%. Rival Pepsi's Americas Beverage segment saw a 1.5% decline in its revenue adjusted for accounting items such as currency fluctuations, acquisitions, and divestitures. Dr Pepper Snapple Group saw its EPS estimate downgraded a penny due to its challenges.
Wall Street analysts at Coca-Cola's earnings call asked about media criticisms surrounding growth prospects. Coca-Cola's CEO Muhtar Kent adamantly defended his company, indicating that Coca-Cola's growth story isn't over. He talked about "balanced growth" between sparkling and non-sparkling beverages. Kent emphasized there will be "1 billion new members of the middle class by 2020", affirming his belief that the economic volatility seen on the emerging-markets scene will pass. Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, also alluded to the low per capita consumption in places like India, implying that there's room for growth in those countries.
4. Marketing and packaging campaigns improved results.
Coca-Cola increased investment in marketing and came out with several marketing campaigns that helped improve already-sparkling results. The "Share a Coke" program, in which people could buy cans of Coca-Cola, with their name on them, made a huge impact in Europe and China. Coca-Cola produced 2.5 billion packages in Europe. This contributed to a 3% increase in volume for Northern European countries. Coca-Cola also ran the "Share a Coke" campaign in China, contributing to a 9% volume increase for the quarter there.
In North America, Coca-Cola released a pack of mini cans and 1.25-liter bottles for those who want soda in a moderated portion. The effort generated an increase of $19 million in "immediate consumption transactions year to date" in North America.
Coca-Cola hopes that its involvement with major sports events such as the Olympic torch relay, the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, and College Game Day will also pay off in terms of increased volume.
5. Proposed taxes in Mexico are a touchy subject.
Recently, a special excise tax on soda has been proposed in Mexico. CEO Kent was uncomfortable discussing the matter when an analyst asked him about it during the call. He indicated that "regressive taxes do not work." In regard to its appeal to the Mexican government, Kent said, "there's a lot of discussions going on and that would be wrong for me to publicly comment on any of those discussions." Soda excise taxes in places likes Mexico indicate health concerns in places other than the United States.
6. Capital priorities are straight.
Coca-Cola's chief financial officer, Gary Fayard, gave indication of proper capital allocation strategies. He said the first priority for the company's cash should go toward reinvestment into the business to stimulate growth via organic strategies or acquisitions, dividends, and then stock repurchases. He said that stock repurchases are "value neutral" for the long-term holder, meaning they provide no tangible benefit to the long-term shareholder, although he conceded that repurchases might make the stock price go up in the short term.
No doubt Coca-Cola executives show loyal resolve and pride in the company and its partners under their charge. If these executives show the same resolve in their offices as they do under Wall Street scrutiny, then shareholders will lose out without their services. However, it's also safe to say that consumers, especially in the developed world, want to eat and drink healthier, which means companies like Coca-Cola and rivals PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple will need to work harder to redefine themselves.