Posted on Wednesday 23 March 2011 by Ulster Business

Coca Cola factory production line

Marcel Martin became General Manager for Coca-Cola Hellenic Ireland & Northern Ireland in September last year. Symon Ross spoke to him about the challenges and opportunities for the company on the island of Ireland

The new boss of Coca-Cola Hellenic Ireland & Northern Ireland is confident the company's business will see continued growth over the next few years in spite of the economic woes on both sides of the border. Marcel Martin has been in the job since September 2010, the month when the company's new £93.5m state-of-the-art facility in Knockmore Hill in Lisburn was officially unveiled amid much fanfare. While the period since then has seen the second wave of the Irish financial crisis, Coca-Cola Hellenic's regional operation saw growth over the last six months of 2010 and sales are up around 5% so far this year, which he views as very encouraging. "I personally believe this economic crisis is not going to last beyond 2012. I believe the island of Ireland will be out of economic stagnation and decline by 2013. What I'd like to do is make sure the company is properly prepared for that moment when the wave will raise all the boats again," he told Ulster Business. "I really believe that we do have an excellent growth opportunity. At the moment we are in an economic crisis and consumers' disposable income is reduced, so the general situation in the market is not necessarily stimulating. But you always have economic growth and decline, you always have waves. Crises help a company to focus on the core values that shape the organisation, to make sure it is eliminating waste and getting fit for the future," he added. Martin has been in the Coca-Cola 'system' for the best part of 20 years. He started his career with Coca-Cola Hellenic – Europe's largest bottler of Coca-Cola beverages – as an engineer in Romania before becoming franchise General Manager in the country. He then moved on to hold senior roles with the company in Siberia, Nigeria and Ukraine, although he was not completely new to these shores on arrival last year, having done his early training in the company's former Lambeg site. The mature island of Ireland market presents a very different challenge to his previous roles, which were focused on delivering high growth in developing markets, albeit a market with 50 million potential customers in the case of his most recent posting in Ukraine. "For me the assignment to Ireland was very attractive. First of all because I got my first induction in Belfast when I started with the company, so I know a lot of people and some friendships have continued since then," he said. "The other reason is that the Ireland market is one of the most developed in Europe. You get an interesting mix of local and international retailers and at the same time the range of products available is reaching the highest level. Everywhere I have worked I have been driving growth. It is interesting to find out if you can drive growth under these circumstances." Coca-Cola first made it onto the island of Ireland in 1939 when Tom Robinson of Belfast introduced the brand, and it gained a real foothold in the region when American G.I.s were stationed here during World War II. Coca-Cola Hellenic now produces a vast range of brands here, including carbonated drinks Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Fanta and Sprite, juice drinks 5 Alive and Oasis, and Deep River Rock water. Martin says there are very strong levels of consumer loyalty to the Coca-Cola brand in Ireland, noting that Northern Ireland has the highest per capita consumption for Diet Coke in the world. The company also recently saw Deep River Rock become the number one branded water for the island for the first time, and is the leading branded juice producer here when sales of all its brands are combined. "For us it is critical to grow the Coca-Cola brand when we grow the business. At the end of the day it is the name of the business and what represents us above anything else. Recent growth is coming from the Coca-Cola brand but also other parts of the portfolio: water, juice, coffee, iced-tea, sport and energy drinks. In particular it is Coca-Cola water and juice that are driving the growth in the last 6-8 months," he explained. "The way that consumer needs are evolving is definitely influencing the way that we build our portfolio. I am personally very interested in experimenting and expanding the portfolio – one area we are very interested in at the moment is flavoured milk," he added. The company's Deep River Rock water is bottled at source in Lisburn and Martin is keen to communicate that story more visibly on labels in future, noting that the nature of the source of water has become increasingly important to consumers across Europe. The choice of the 45-acre Knockmore Hill site was first announced in 2005 after Coca-Cola Hellenic decided to consolidate production from its existing plants in Lambeg in Lisburn and Naas Road in Dublin, and a bottle-making plant in Co Louth, into one modern facility. Invest NI contributed £6.75m to the project. Operational 24/7, the 50,000 square feet manufacturing, bottling and warehousing facility comprises nine production lines, employs 600 people, has the capacity to produce 1.5 million litres or 250,000 cases of drinks each day and includes an energy-efficient Combined Heat and Power plant, a new automated warehouse 'racking' system and a visitors' centre which is open for public tours. The power plant supplies efficient clean electricity, heat, CO2 and chilled water needed for the company's soft drink production and is currently the only 'quad generation' plant in the UK and Ireland. "This is a facility for the next 20 to 30 or more years. It is very modern, it has the production capacity that is required probably for the next 5 to 10 years. It is a plant for the future, and a showcase for the whole Coca-Cola system," said Martin. The Coca-Cola Hellenic GM is well aware of the company's importance in the Lisburn area and it has engaged with the local community in a number of ways – for instance supporting grassroots sports initiatives that encourage an active lifestyle and welcoming school groups most days to its visitor centre, which was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in December. He also recognises the positive impact the drinks company can have on the local economy. "We are one of the largest companies in the Lisburn area and we are one of the largest employers. We also have a large impact on the business community because we try to recruit our suppliers from the local business community where possible, for example in construction, maintenance of some equipment, transportation, labels. A study showed for one job created, 10-12 were created in the supply chain, so we have a very important role to play." With that kind of multiplier effect it seems clear that Coca-Cola will be a driving force in the region's economy for years to come.

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