Coke to expand production capacity in Nigeria

Nigerian Bottling Company Plc (NBC), bottlers of Coca-Cola products in the country, has unfolded plans to expand existing plants and introduce new products to “cater for changing tastes”, its Chief Executive Officer, Jim Lafferty has said.

To fund the expansion, NBC will choose from a “range of options, including loans and self-financing,” the 46-year-old Lafferty, who took over as the company’s helmsman on February 1, disclosed in an interview yesterday. He declined to provide details on the bottlers’ expansion plans.

Lafferty joined NBC from Procter and Gamble Co., where he spent 24 years working on four continents, his last posting being president and general manager for the Cincinnati-based company’s operations in the Philippines.

Nigeria represents one of the “last frontiers of global business,” he said, adding that he was drawn to Nigeria because of how different the country was to the reports he had read about it.

“The fundamentals are there for Nigeria to be one of the great success stories for the next 50 years,” he said.

NBC, is a unit of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, the world’s second-biggest bottler of Coca-Cola beverages, after Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.

The company employs 6,000 people, operating 13 bottling plants, 80 depots and more than 200,000 sales outlets in Nigeria, according to NBC’s Web site. It offers brands including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite and Fanta.

“If you look at the portfolio of products that NBC has today and the portfolio of products in a developed country, there are a lot of potential opportunities.”

“You will see a number of exciting new expansions in categories in the coming years to meet the growing needs of the Nigerian consumers,” Lafferty said.

Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, the domestic unit of Atlanta- based Coca-Cola Company, in August, closed its concentrate plant in Nigeria, a move many Nigerians interpreted as part of a plan by NBC to relocate from the country.

Lafferty however said NBC has no plans to move, adding that the relocation of the plant to Swaziland was part of Coca-Cola’s rationalisation exercise. NBC now imports concentrate from the southern African nation.

Lafferty lamented that NBC’s operations in Nigeria face constraints imposed by inadequate infrastructure and recurring civil unrest.

“Dilapidated roads impede movement of products and unreliable power supplies can disrupt operations, Lafferty said. Blackouts are a daily occurrence in Nigeria, where demand for electricity is almost double current supply. Last year, the country failed to achieve a target of generating 6,000 megawatts of electricity by the end of 2009.

“Civil disturbances, including religious violence, have also become more frequent in Nigeria. About 500 people were killed on March 7 in the central state of Plateau. Similar violence in January led to the deaths of more than 300 people.

“NBC will work around these problems to achieve its targets, Lafferty added.