On August 20, 2003 Sanjiv Gupta, President and CEO of Coca-Cola India, sat in his office contemplating the events of the last two weeks and debating his next move. Sales had dropped by 30-40%1 in only two weeks on the heels of a 75% five-year growth trajectory and 25-30%2 year-to-date growth. Many leading clubs, retailers, restaurants, and college campuses across the country had stopped selling Coca-Cola3 and only six weeks into his new role as CEO, Gupta was embroiled in a crisis that threatened the momentum gained from a highly successful two-year marketing campaign that had given Coca-Cola market leadership over Pepsi. On August 5th, The Center for Science and Environment (CSE), an activist group in India focused on environmental sustainability issues (specifically the effects of industrialization and economic growth) issued a press release stating: "12 major cold drink brands sold in and around Delhi contain a deadly cocktail of pesticide residues" (See Exhibit 1). According to tests conducted by the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (PML) of the CSE from April to August, three samples of twelve PepsiCo and Coca-Cola brands from across the city were found to contain pesticide residues surpassing global standards by 30-36 times including lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos (See Exhibit 2). These four pesticides were known to cause cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, birth defects, and severe disruption of the immune system.4 In reaction to this report, the Indian government banned Coke and Pepsi products in Parliament and state governments launched independent investigations, sending soft drink samples to labs for testing. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company (Coke) stock dipped by five dollars on the New York Stock Exchange from $55 to $50 in the six sessions following the August 5 disclosure, as did shares of Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCA).5 Pepsi and Coca-Cola called the CSE allegations “baseless” and questioned the method of testing but the CSE claimed it had followed standard procedures documented by the US Environmental Protection Agency including Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry. Pepsi’s own tests conducted at an independent laboratory showed no detectable pesticides and led Pepsi to file a petition with the high court questioning the credibility of the CSE’s claims6 while Coke’s Gupta commented: “The allegation is serious and it has the potential to tarnish the image of our brands in the country. If this continues, we will consider legal recourse.”7 Despite Coke and Pepsi’s early responses denying the validity of the CSE’s claims and threatening legal action, a survey conducted in Delhi a few days after the CSE announcement found that a majority of consumers believed the findings were correct and agreed with parliament’s move to ban the sale of soft drinks.8 It was clear that the $1 billion Indian soft drink market9 was at stake and Gupta had to act.
History of Coke
The Early Days
Coca-Cola was created in 1886 by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, who sold the syrup mixed with fountain water as a potion for mental and physical disorders. The formula changed hands three more times before Asa D. Candler added carbonation and by 2003, Coca-Cola was the world’s largest manufacturer, marketer, and distributor of nonalcoholic beverage concentrates and syrups, with more than 400 widely recognized beverage brands in its portfolio. With the bubbles making the difference, Coca-Cola was registered as a trademark in 1887 and by 1895, was being sold in every state and territory in the United States. In 1899, it franchised its bottling operations in the U.S., growing quickly to reach 370 franchisees by 1910.10 Headquartered in Atlanta with divisions and local operations in over 200 countries worldwide, Coca-Cola generated more than 70% of its income outside the United States by 2003 (See Exhibit 3). International expansion