The Managing Director of the Nigerian Bottling Company, George Polymenakos, in this encounter with Raheem Akingbolu, says innovation and investment in capability building will be the saving grace for manufacturers with eyes on the future.
With tepid growth rate recorded by the Nigerian economy in 2018, analysts have predicted that the nation’s economic outlook for 2019 will also record slim growth this year.
Beside the fact that there is uncertainty around the outcome of the upcoming election, which has compelled business owners to move with caution, the anticipated drop in global oil prices and the expected decrease in oil revenue may also affect businesses this year.
Though he admitted there could be lull in the economy this year for obvious reasons, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), George Polymenakos, is optimistic about the resilience of the Nigerian economy.
“Yes, there are expectations that there would be further devaluation of the naira and the concern that it would take long time for the government to redirect their focus on nation-building after the 2019 elections.
“However, Nigeria has proven to be a resilient country and we hope that the different units of the government are able to quickly get to work on strengthening the economy and creating an enabling environment for businesses,” he said.
Commenting on development at the NBC, he pointed out categorically that despite the projected slow growth in the economy, the NBC team remains optimistic that 2019 would be an amazing year for the company’s operations because of the foundations that have been laid over the years.
“We have built strong foundation to weather the storm and we have the commitment of our employees to deliver on our projections. Furthermore, we will continue to grow our portfolio to meet the changing preferences of our consumers by providing the choices that suit their needs and occasions.
“Above all, we believe that it is time we begin to reap the investments we have made in building capability across our operations. We have the best infrastructure you can get anywhere in the world and with innovativeness; we will deploy all these to meet the needs of our consumers while creating value for our shareholders,”
2018 in retrospect
Accessing his company’s business performance in 2018, Polymenakos said the NBC successfully maintained a strong business in its most established markets and grew its reach in some of emerging markets across the country.
Beyond Coca Cola, Fanta and Sprite, he stated that the juice and energy drinks from the stable of the company also grew significantly in 2018, but quickly added that there was still great opportunity ahead for growth.
“During that period, in line with our ongoing accelerated business plan, we continued to invest heavily in capital expenditure to ensure that we can continue to deliver operational excellence across the value chain. In the face of strong macro-economic headwinds, Nigerian Bottling Company continued to grow on some of our categories.
“It was also a year of great learning for us, which will help us do things better. We have been operating in Nigeria for over 67 years now, and we have a wealth of experience in meeting consumer needs by offering choices and quality and growing a successful business in the country,” he stated.
Speaking on the concerns in some quarters over the closure of production in the company’s Enugu Plant, Polymenakos said the decision was as a result of the pressure on the NBC products.
He stated that the repurposing of some NBC facilities across Nigeria, Enugu inclusive, was in line with the company’s sustainable business strategy with the overarching goal of improving efficiencies and boosting production capacity to meet the need of discerning consumers.
“Our business optimisation strategy started about five years ago because we have realised the need to have a lean, agile and highly efficient operation to meet the increasing demand from our consumers.
“Therefore, we have consolidated our production facilities to increase the capacity of the existing plants to meet the pressure from the demand side and accommodate the new offerings we are bringing to the market. There were inherent restrictions to the extent of manufacturing growth that was achievable at our Enugu facility.
“The facility is not large enough to accommodate our infrastructural enhancement and the sloping terrain of the location made certain operations a bit difficult,” he added.
He, however, pointed out that while production activities have stopped at the Enugu facility, the Company has continued to carry out logistics and commercial operations from the location.
“The NBC Enugu facility is being transformed into a top material handling and logistics hub for the region, to better satisfy our customers and grow our market in Nigeria,” he stated.
Expansion and sustainability plan
Are there any plan to accelerate NBC investment by increasing the capacities of various plants across Nigeria? What is the company’s expansion plan for 2019 business year with regards to other areas of the business? In his response to these questions the Managing Director said over the last four years, the company has steadily increased the number of its production lines. He stated that the company’s business transformation and optimisation plan which commenced in 2015 involved huge investments worth over €500m for the expansion and upgrade of some key plants including Asejire, Ikeja, Abuja, Owerri, Challawa, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, and Benin resulting in increased total production capacity.
To sustain the tempo, he disclosed that the company’s business plan would see the team investing hundreds of millions of Euros in its Nigeria operations leading up to 2020.
He further stated that sustainability remains a key driver for business growth for the NBC and that the management of the company firmly believes that their business can only be as strong as the communities in which they operate and the people therein.
“We look to create shared value for all our stakeholders and this drives us to create meaningful ways to improve our environment and the communities we operate in and to deploy innovation to advance general health and wellness.
“We are pleased that our sustainability efforts were recently recognised. We were presented with the ‘Best company in Gender Equality and Women Empowerment award at the 2018 edition of the Social Enterprise Report Awards (SERAs) CSR Awards which held recently in Lagos.
“Besides, recently, to tackle the barriers that prevent women entrepreneurs from succeeding in the marketplace, the Company started partnering with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) and Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd, to empower 1,000 women in Lagos state with trainings in financial literacy and business skills, as well as start-up capital to enable their establishment as entrepreneurs.
“In 2019, we will take our Youth Empowered program, to more states across Nigeria. Youth Empowered is our flagship program for Nigerian youth. It trains young people to build life skills, business skills and long-lasting networks to facilitate their building of sustainable businesses or their successful transitioning to gainful employment,” he said.
Speaking further, Polymenakos, emphasised the fact that in 2019, NBC will complete its conversion to the eco-friendlier ultra-glass bottle across the company’s operations in Nigeria.
According to him, the project started 10 years ago as part of NBC’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
“The implications of this project are far reaching on the environment, energy use and even impact on our roads. In celebration of this accomplishment and our 67th year of manufacturing the contour bottle, we are embarking on an initiative to make our retail glass bottle even more affordable for our consumers,” he added.
Innovation and competition
With more new entrants into the non-alcoholic beverage industry in recent time, one would feel the new competition must have affected NBC business but George said the development delighted his team, who see it as blessing for consumers.
“In all the markets where we operate, we are always excited seeing new entrants because we are confident that such development would impact well on consumers and other members of the public. There will be more employment, consumers will have choices and more market would be explored.
“As for us, we are very optimistic about the short- and long-term performance of our business. As industry leaders, we see competition and the availability of choice as a positive sign for the industry. Competition means new innovation, new innovation in a category means the attraction of even more customers to the sector.
“For us at the Nigerian bottling company, our focus is on being able to continue delivering high quality products in the most efficient and sustainable ways, at the best price possible to our consumers. We would never compromise on any of these important elements of our commitment to our consumers.
“We have been operating in Nigeria since 1951, over the years; we have grown with the nation and have continued to provide refreshment in every part of the country. We have the right people, the right coverage, the right infrastructure and processes and exceptional partners,” Polymenakos said.