ATLANTA — Calling the pace of deal making “a very lumpy proposition,” James Robert Quincey, chief executive officer of the Coca-Cola Co., doesn’t necessarily expect the Atlanta-based beverage company’s feverish acquisition pace to continue in 2019.
“You know, no one quarter or year is projectable into the future,” Mr. Quincey said during a Dec. 11 interview with CNBC’s Sara Eisen on “Squawk on the Street.” “Because it’s about, you know, not just is the strategy right but do the financials add up, and is the opportunity there to invest in the brands?”
Coca-Cola found the opportunity ripe to invest during 2018. The company signed agreements with six different brands spanning six different segments over the past year. Companies involved in the deals included BodyArmor, Costa Ltd., Made Group, Moxie, Organic & Raw Trading Co. and Tropico S.A.S.
In late October Coca-Cola launched a Global Ventures group to connect and globally scale key acquisitions, investments and partnerships.
“We’re focused on building out the portfolio,” Mr. Quincey said. “We’ve had some good investments in 2018. We’re excited about their prospects in 2019 and beyond. What we’re focused on is putting the pieces in place so that we build out the portfolio.”
But Mr. Quincey cautioned against thinking 2019 will be like 2018 on the acquisition front.
“No, that pace is unlikely to continue at that rhythm in 2019,” he said. “Of course, partly we’ve got to absorb the ones we invested in, in 2018. But experience would tell you that they just don’t come up at that sort of rhythm the whole time. We need to focus on also bringing them to life as well.”
During the interview on CNBC, Ms. Eisen asked Mr. Quincey specifically about the acquisition of Costa, which stands to give Coca-Cola a presence in hot beverages and the morning daypart — two areas the company has not been a big player in. The question also was raised whether London-based Costa will be making its way to the United States.
“Actually, our focus — firstly, we need to close the deal,” Mr. Quincey said. “That’s the first thing that needs to occur. And then we’ve got some ideas on what the expansion should be for Costa, remembering that we’ve taken this on board because we actually see the multiple formats of Costa as the way it will play and fit into the Coke system. Yes, there are some stores that build experience, but the way that they have developed the business to be able to be within someone else’s business, combined with our huge strength as being a cold beverage partner, we can now be a hot beverage partner as well.”
Coca-Cola’s pending acquisition of Costa also puts the company in the restaurant business, which Ms. Eisen described as a departure for Coca-Cola. Asked how Coca-Cola’s relationship with McDonald’s — its largest food service customer — has changed, Mr. Quincey responded, “It has some coffee stores. We’ve got a lot of customers out there. Some of them have asked questions about how that will work. But our focus as a coffee strategy is not trying to be the big retailer in the world. We’re trying to — take the Costa vending machine, as an example. This is, in a way, the hot version of our Free Style Machine. Our Free Style Machine — normally you have six or eight valves on a fountain gun, this can do over 100 beverages. Costa is the latest upgrade to cappuccino or barista-style coffee. This is something that we think can pair fantastically with the business system that really — we have that exists today and can help to drive a hot and cold solution for many retailers out there.”