We are Building a Stable and Future-ready Sustainable Business

We have shown not only how seriously we take the domestic market, but also that we have vision, resilience, and readiness to grow

The company Coca-Cola HBC Serbia, as part of the Coca-Cola HBC Group, has been operating in the domestic market for 27 years. Today, the company employs around 1,600 workers, and collaborates with 37,000 customers and about 1,700 suppliers, creating significant economic value for the domestic economy. Coca-Cola HBC Serbia’s share in the non-alcoholic beverages category is 44%. Besides excellent business results, the company is also recognized as one of the leaders in sustainable business, having recently presented its 11th Sustainability Report.

We spoke with the General Manager of Coca-Cola HBC Serbia, Svetoslav Atanasov, about the ways they integrate sustainability into their operations, significant ongoing investments, and how they use digitalization to create a more resilient business.

Mr. Atanasov: With geopolitical uncertainty and high inflation rates, the past year required businesses to exercise caution and adaptability, but Coca-Cola HBC Serbia continued with investments and development. Instead of hitting the pause button, we pressed forward. We have shown not only how seriously we take the domestic market, but also that we have vision, resilience, and readiness to grow. You will recall that in 2022, we expanded our family by opening the Rosa Homolje sparkling water bottling plant. We continued to strengthen our unique 24/7 portfolio.

In the past year, we started implementing important projects that will enhance both business performance and environmental parameters. At the Zemun bottling plant, we recently installed a new, modern can-filling line worth over 12 million euros. This increases our production capacity and, for the first time, introduces new formats such as the 0.25 l can, in line with our goal to provide consumers with a variety of portion choices of their favorite drinks. On the new line, we will also be able to produce group packs of cans attached to a cardboard cover, using KeelClip technology, significantly reducing plastic consumption.

At the Zemun bottling plant, we recently installed a new, modern can-filling line worth over 12 million euros

We have installed heat pumps to reduce natural gas usage. As part of the “Accept the Circular Challenge” initiative, the Ministry of Environmental Protection selected this project as one of the top 10 in Serbia. With heat pumps, we are reducing CO2 emissions by 1,000 tons annually.

At the Vlasinka bottling plant, where the popular Rosa water is produced, we installed solar collectors, saving around 180 megawatts of electricity annually.

The currency we measure all these investments with is sustainability. We are building a stable, future-ready business, fulfilling the goals of our Sustainability Mission 2025 and NetZero 2040 ambition.

Zero emissions are becoming one of the important promises of this generation. How far have you come on this path?

Compared to 2017, we have reduced our direct CO2 emissions by 73 percent. We achieved this by sourcing all our electricity from renewable sources, transitioning to a “green” vehicle fleet, and continuously optimizing processes at our bottling plants.

A long journey lies ahead concerning indirect emissions, which arise within the value chain. The raw materials we use, packaging, and refrigeration equipment account for about 94 percent of our total emissions (both direct and indirect). Collaboration with suppliers and partners is key to addressing indirect emissions. We initiated the Green Procurement Day, where we gathered with our suppliers to share best practices. We learn from each other and work together to find solutions with the same goal – “greening” the supply chain.

Digitalization means a greater focus on our customers and partners, a better experience for employees, improved overall productivity, and sustainable solutions

In 2023, we introduced attached caps to facilitate recycling of the entire package, and whenever a consumer chooses our Joy, FuzeTea, or neXt lemonades, they select packaging made from recycled plastic. Currently, about 8 percent of our total packaging on the market is made from recycled plastic. The Coca-Cola HBC Group has set the goal of achieving zero emissions by 2040. It seems far off, but that future is now. I see the next 16 years leading up to fulfilling our promise as a period for innovation and unlocking potential, both for us and our partners.

How relevant is sustainability becoming as a topic for domestic consumers? Do you see shifts in this direction?

Businesses thrive only when they are relevant to the needs of the communities they are part of, as this allows them to fulfill their role to all stakeholders: customers, partners, employees, and consumers. Accordingly, I can say that sustainability is becoming an increasingly relevant issue for consumers. Numerous questions and comments we received after introducing the attached caps are one example. More and more frequently, we hear from job candidates that they care about how the company treats the community or the planet. To be a desirable employer or a favorite brand, it is essential to genuinely embody a culture of sustainable business practices. As Coca-Cola HBC Serbia, we not only do what is right but also aim to be relevant to consumers who have different needs than they did 10 or 20 years ago.

At the presentation of the Sustainability Report, the information about your investments in digitalization was surprising.

Digitalization has long become “everyone’s” business; it is no longer reserved for technology or financial companies. For us, digitalization means a greater focus on our customers and partners, a better experience for employees, improved overall productivity, and sustainable solutions. This is why, together with the company Bambi as part of the Coca-Cola HBC system, we have invested more than 8 million euros in digitalization over the past two years. Today, 14 percent of our sales volume comes through digital channels. This speaks volumes about the power of digitalization. Over the past year, we implemented next-generation software for better route planning for our sales representatives, reducing travel time by 12%, which will further reduce CO2 emissions. I think we have only “tapped into” a portion of all the possibilities digitalization offers. I look forward to witnessing even more intense business transformation in the years ahead with the help of the latest technologies.

Can it be said that the intersection of digitalization and sustainability is also reflected in the announced project of building an automated warehouse?

When we talk about new horizons we are opening, one of the most important projects for us this year is the commencement of building an automated warehouse, which will be the cornerstone for setting innovative standards in logistics. With this project, our warehouse capacity and efficiency will increase, and the loading capacity will double. We will simplify processes, reducing operation times and minimizing the possibility of errors. Regarding the impact on environmental parameters, we expect a reduction in CO2 emissions by 1.35 tons annually. Preparatory work is well underway, and we expect construction of the automated warehouse, valued at 33 million euros, to begin this year.

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