Anyone I’ve met knows I am never very far from a can of Cherry Coke Zero…for me, it is a fantastic product. And, like any other product of The Coca-Cola Company, I can tell you where my can of Cherry Coke Zero was made, when it was made, and where the ingredients in it came from.
It’s not a magic trick or telepathy, nor is it some special power given to Coca-Colaexecutives.
The reason I know all this is because of the seemingly random series of numbers and digits found on every can and bottle we produce. The letters and numbers mean little to anyone… except to those of us who know the value of traceability. That collection of characters allows us to know everything about that bottle or can of Coke.
From these numbers, we can tell exactly where and when the product was bottled. We can tell where the sugar, concentrate and everything else in the bottle came from. Being able to trace everything in our products and having 100% confidence in the quality of our ingredients is one of the most important missions we have.
A 2012 study by the International Food Information Council found that eight in 10 adults thought about food safety at some point before buying a product. Rather than a warning, the concerns over what is going into food can be a great opportunity for us. If we get safety and traceability right, the public will always have faith in us.
When somebody picks up one of our brands, they have an expectation from our system that our quality is of the absolute highest standard and that our safety precautions are unmatched. It may not seem fair, but as the most-recognized brand in the world, we are held to a higher standard. We have to be at the leading edge of understanding everything about our products, and that includes knowing exactly where our raw ingredients come from.
In many cases, it’s easier said than done. It is one thing when we control all the aspects of the supply chain, but we often do not. Think, for example, about when you buy sugar on the world market. You know you are buying Brazilian sugar, but do you know exactly where in Brazil it came from? You probably know what mill it came from. The mill can probably tell you directionally what area the crop came from, but they probably can’t tell you what exact farms it came from.
Is it necessary or even possible to have traceability all the way down to the very farm and field a product came from? I’m not sure, but that’s the kind of granularity we are aiming for – to have true traceability right to the farm.
I suppose my own obsession with traceability may stem from my Irish roots. There is probably no country that takes traceability as seriously as Ireland does. The Irish Food Board, or Bord Bia, has relentlessly campaigned for traceability and it was the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that discovered horse-meat masquerading as cattle beef across the EU last year. In fact, one of the mandates of the Bord Bia is to promote the “Irishness” of the country’s exports because consumers across the world know that Irish products are more likely to be safe and stringently monitored.
What Ireland knows, and what we at Coke have embraced, it that you earn consumer trust over many, many years… and you can destroy consumer trust in a minute. Trust is anchored in a promise kept and the minute they think you are not keeping your promise, you have a problem.
That’s how we have to think about everything we do. It goes back to the name over the door – WE ARE COCA-COLA. Consumers have a very high expectation from us and our own expectations must be even higher.