Coca-Cola uses solar cooler to push rural sales

Sales of soft drinks have long been stymied by erratic power supply, but an environment friendly innovation developed by Coca-Cola India now promises to change all that. Armed with the new product, Coca-Cola India plans to offer an entire range of its chilled soft drink products to markets deep in the hinterland, even where there is no electricity. 

‘eKOCool’, a chest cooler, developed internally by the Indian arm of the Atlanta based multinational, operates exclusively through solar energy, with no other electricity source required to operate it. It has a capacity to store two crates, which contains 48 glass bottles of 300ml each. That’s not all. It can even charge your mobile phone and light up your home.

The innovation gives Coca-Cola a competitive edge to tap new rural markets and ramp up sales of a product which is always best served chilled. Introduced in select rural markets earlier this summer, it has already improved sales dramatically and company officials expect orders of the product from other countries in the system as well.

Says Asim Parekh, VP technical, Coca Cola India: “The eKOCool is an outcome of our technical team’s persistence to use renewable energy for operating cooling equipment. The rural markets pose challenges in expansion as a huge swathe of the rural belt is not yet covered by the power grid hence remains without electricity or has low power. This challenge has now been overcome by Coca-Cola’s new innovation, which will give us a competitive edge as well as a first mover advantage.”

The product loaded into the cooler early morning or previous night is ready to be served chilled in the morning. The cooling equipment brings benefits to the retailer too in terms of saving on the electricity bill and cost of ice.

A pilot project under which 20 such coolers were placed in rural areas near Agra (Uttar Pradesh) has been successfully completed this summer, and has already shown results. Sales from these outlets have jumped nearly five times, a company official said.

Sakhidevi, who operates a general store in Sarvatpur near Agra, says: “We don’t have electricity in the village for hours. Since I installed the solar cooler, my sales have gone up.”

The journey to develop the solar cooler started in May 2009, when Coca Cola India CEO Atul Singh was visiting a rural market in UP and found that many outlets stocking the company’s products did not have any chilling equipment. The outlets were operating out of ice boxes with little ice, since either coolers or electricity were not available.

Says Sunil Gulati, GM Technical, who developed the design; “After evaluating various options, we chose solar energy to eliminate the need to depend on grid-based electricity completely, and to be environment friendly.”

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