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'Bad science' on soft drinks a fact of life: Coca-Cola Enterprises CEO

By Ben Bouckley+

19-Dec-2012

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) CEO John Brock has taken a sideswipe at detractors of soft drink ingredients who he claims base negative comments on ‘bad science or no science’.

Brock made his comments during CCE’s 2013 business outlook call yesterday, when he predicted that the firm’s 2013 volumes would rise modestly due to several “positive factors”.

CCE predicted net sales and operating income rises in the low mid-single-digit range for 2012 (respective 2011 figures: $8.3bn and $1.1bn) in currency neutral terms, and including the impact of the French excise tax increase.

The Atlanta-based executive said that CCE was excited by its 2013 marketing plans worked out with Coke, including a “first rate” polar bear Arctic program for Q1, and the 30th anniversary of Diet Coke and Coke Lite.

Brock said he hoped that bad weather in Europe (2012 was perhaps the wettest summer in around 100 years) would not recur in 2013,  while CCE will also have lapped the first year impact of the 2012 French tax increase on sugar-sweetened beverages.

‘People who are detractors…’

On a later analyst call, Caroline Levy from CSLA asked Brock if, in light of numerous US press reports, CCE sensed any changes in terms of the health and wellness trend and its impact on consumer attraction to, and retailer behavior around, soft drinks?

“Are there any new particular trends? We’d say ‘No’,” Brock replied. “We recognize there are issues out there, people who are detractors, people in the ingredients area who love to use bad science or no science at all and talk about some of our ingredients.

“We recognize that’s a fact of life, and we’ve got to play with it. It’s not getting any worse. I think it’s just an issue that’s out there that we have to deal with.

Stronger role within UNESDA

Brock told Levy that CCE, the Coca-Cola Company and the Coca-Cola system had the health and wellness issue “right at the top of our agenda” and recognized the need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

“It’s fair to say you’re going to see a lot more about this as we go down the road. We are tackling it both from an offensive and defensive standpoint,” Brock said.

“We got great brands, a terrific category and a great industry. We’re going to be working hard to make sure consumers understand all of those.”

Defensively, CCE wanted to ensure it was in a strong position in Europe to respond to regulatory, tax or ingredient issues, as well as health and wellness allegations, he added.

CCE had put together a more significant program with Coke on these issues, Brock said, while it would take a “strength and leadership role” in UNESDA (Union of European Soft Drinks Associations) the European equivalent of the American Beverage Association (ABA).