By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE Coca-Cola Company plans to invest an initial $63 million (around P3 billion) in its Philippine operations this year to expand Luzon-based production.

Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI), the local bottling partner of the beverage giant, will invest in improving production capacity in Santa Rosa and Canlubang, as well as in its logistics and returnable glass systems.

“This is our first tranche of investment into 2021, coming from over $90 million that we spent last year,” CCBPI President and Chief Executive Officer Gareth McGeown said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Last year, Coca-Cola’s investments were focused on expanding the company’s production capacity in Mindanao. Potential additional manufacturing investment in Mindanao could happen in the third or fourth quarters this year, he added.

“Assuming that the business continues to progress and do well, we will be asking for more investments to continue to build capacity and capability across our system. The majority of them do go to production capability and capacity, mainly in our manufacturing sites,” Mr. McGeown said.

Antonio V. Del Rosario, Jr., Coca-Cola Philippines president and vice-president of franchise operations for Coca-Cola East Region, said investments would go into the company’s brands as well.

“When you look into 2021, we are gonna grow the investments around our brands well ahead — double digit versus the prior year — in the belief that you invest now, you will come out and emerge stronger,” he said.

The company last year reported lower sales as it lost demand from restaurant clients. But Mr. McGeown said that the company was able to “weather the storms” better than many other fast-moving consumer goods because of its scale.

Coca-Cola Philippines, Mr. Del Rosario said, performed slightly better than overall global sales, which he attributes to the distribution system.

“We have a very, very strong network of retailers that are close to (customers’) homes, particularly the sari-sari stores,” he said.

The local firm is targeting sales that mirror pre-pandemic levels this year.

“Our peg is to make sure that in 2021, we are back to kind of pre-COVID levels, looking at 2019, and that will obviously show that we would be growing. It is a difficult target, but one that we believe we’re gonna be able to do,” Mr. Del Rosario said.