Coca-Cola India is betting big on food and experiential marketing. The beverage company has launched a mobile-led platform called ‘Coke is Cooking’. The strategy is to enhance street food experiences and music culture around the world. The brand has kick-started this activity in Kolkata, India. The platform will further be scaled globally. Coca-Cola aims to host ‘Coke is Cooking’ festivals in one city in the world every week of the year in 2024. With this launch, the company largely aims to leverage consumers’ passion points of music, food, entertainment, and more, to connect and engage with them on a deeper level.
In a conversation with Storyboard18, Arnab Roy, vice president and head, marketing, Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia, indicates, 85 percent of the brand's marketing investment is going to be on experiential and digital activities. Roy also shares how the brand plans to amplify its marketing for the platform, and why it has no plans to get into brand extensions in the food category.
What is the genesis of the global meals experience platform – ‘Coke Is Cooking’?
This is a global platform which is called ‘Is Cooking’. Essentially, the name of the city will fill in before ‘Is’. It is a worldwide event, and it is first being kicked off in Kolkata. It will be called “Kolkata Is Cooking”. After Kolkata, we will hit Hanoi, Vietnam. Then explore Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
Food is a passion point for Coca-Cola. Multiculturalism has been happening over the last few years. While we are globalising as a world, there is a growing love and pride for local food and culture. We are seeing this as an experiment and opportunity. The ambition is that, over a period of time, we should activate this in around 200 cities. The initiative is going to be mobile-led. This also opens up an opportunity for us to test certain marketing models. The way the content is made, or the content is socialised is changing every day. The festival season is big for Coke. After two years of Covid-19, people are going to go out, and we expect revenge consumption and revenge enjoyment to happen in large numbers. We want to tap into this.
In terms of food content, what are the consumer insights that were and are being witnessed which led to the launch of this platform?
Street food will continue to grow in India because it is seen as an experiential activity. Most Indian cities including Kolkata are proud of their street food culture. Our focus is to not only to bring some of the top food chains in Kolkata together but also to get them in unique experience zones. People want to try out new things and want to share those moments online. Today, everything seems Instagrammable. We want to capture every moment where consumers are having fun with food, music, and other things when they are in our experience zones.
What are the objectives or goals you aim to achieve through the global meals platform?
Most of the consumption of Coca-Cola brands happens over food. The closest example is McDonald’s. If one goes to McDonald’s, chances are high that the food would be paired with Coke. We have those incidence numbers.
In India, we have not done a great job yet to increase the incidences with food. If you go to Mexico, close to 70 percent of the population pair Coke with every meal they have, whether it is at home or outside. Mexico is one of Coca-Cola’s largest markets, worldwide.
In the US, the number is close to 45 percent. When people are out and order meals, I think they have a Coke too along with it. In India, it is a low single digit. So, an opportunity to increase penetration on these occasions is very high. I don’t think we have enough to give that experience to people of having chilled Coke with some good spicy street food.
As we start visiting multiple cities to activate this, our aim is to connect consumers with their local culture.
We are also testing a new marketing model, which is going to be mobile-first and influencer-led. User-generated content is what we are looking at. It’s going to give us a lot of learning points – from content building to segmenting these content pieces to various buckets.
What are the marketing strategies in place to amplify this? And what are the elements that will be considered in marketing the platform?
The global platform is mobile-led, and we are working with close to 25 influencers in Kolkata. They include radio jockeys and food bloggers. Even former national cricket captain Sourav Ganguly will be a part of this. We are going to be doing live streaming with Reliance JioMart where we will be discussing all about food.
This year we launched Coke Studio Bangla. It has become the second largest Coke Studio worldwide after Coke Studio Pakistan. We have on board musicians from this region who will be collaborating with artists from Bangladesh. This platform is completely digital-led. 85% of Coca-Cola’s marketing investment is going to be experiential and digital activities.
At a time when people are conscious about their food choices, what does the brand want to accomplish through this platform?
India is still one of the least penetrated markets in our category. It is not that every Indian is gulping down sparkling drinks each day. Our job is to increase penetration and come up with more occasions for consumers. We are not saying to have it all the time. Have them, when you want to have some fun. Building the occasion with food is critical, and these are the things that will help us establish that occasion.
What are your expectations from ‘Coke is Cooking’?
In the next few years, I want to make this platform one of the best food assets. Like Coke Studio has been built for music, this platform serves as a great opportunity for us to build an experiential food platform that is a home away from home.
Does Coke have any plans for brand extensions in the food category, especially in the health space?
We are not in the world of food but in the world of beverages. I, honestly, believe that we are not serving any non-healthy products. Most of our products are certified under one of the most stringent norms both in Europe and the US. Based on a lot of food and beverages that are available in the country, I don’t think we are serving anything unhealthy.
The question is: are they healthy products? We never claimed that they are healthy products, and there is a difference in that. It is a product to be had when one wants to get a little bit of refreshment when one wants to get a little bit of upliftment. It is absolutely safe to be had.
We are the world’s largest beverage company, we are the world’s largest juice company, we are the world's largest hydration company, and we will be launching healthier beverages.
Brands like Smartwater—bottled water brand, owned by Energy Brands, a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company—are already present in the market. We have plans to introduce a lot more.