The Coca-Cola Company will continue to expand its investments in the Philippines, optimistic about the overall prospects for economic recovery, according to its top official.

In an interview with The STAR, Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines Inc. (CCBPI) president and CEO Gareth McGeown said while the company’s 2021 numbers were down, the year saw some recovery.

“Hopefully, we’ll get back to pre-COVID-19 numbers this year. I’m optimistic we can get close to if not equal to 2019 numbers or even better,” McGeown said.

CCBPI is the bottling and distribution arm of Coca-Cola products in the country. It operates 19 manufacturing plants and approximately 50 sales offices and distribution centers – employing more than 9,700 regular employees nationwide.

However, McGeown said he could not disclose exact numbers due to the regulatory requirements of CCBPI’s US-headquartered parent firm.

Coca-Cola’s investments in the country reached P4.75 billion in 2020, mostly to increase production capacity in the Mindanao region by 30 percent through the installation of world-class manufacturing lines in its Davao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, and Zamboanga plants.

This year, about P3.06 billion was spent on the installation of two new lines in the company’s mega plants in Sta. Rosa and Canlubang to increase manufacturing capacity and better serve areas in the Greater Manila Area and South Luzon.

Coca-Cola has also allocated P2.3-billion for a multi-phased PETValue project with green solutions company Indorama Ventures.

The project is a state-of-the-art, bottle-to-bottle recycling facility rising in General Trias, Cavite that will employ world-class, green technologies to produce sustainable packaging. It is set to be completed in the fourth quarter and is targeted to be operational by the first quarter of 2022.

PETValue was granted pioneer status by the Board of Investments last year.

McGeown said while there is no playbook to address challenges of this magnitude, Coca-Cola’s secret to thriving despite the pandemic is learning from last year’s experience and most importantly, listening to its stakeholders.

Overall, McGeown said the company would continue “to invest in the future.”

“We will continue to invest in a brighter tomorrow. COVID-19 has been a massive challenge,” he said.

The company strengthened its Total Wellbeing Program and Life at Coke, which provides continuous job security for employees and continuous engagement and communication through online programs.

The programs help keep the company’s people well – mentally, physically, and emotionally, McGeown said.

CCBPI also has mental health programs, as well as an ongoing vaccine rollout for employees.