Coke To Bet More On Sugar Water With Bubbles

Consider two things (paywall):

1. Global soda sales and coke’s soda sales are steadily declining:

The pace of Coke’s global soda volume growth slowed to 1% last year from 3% in 2012 as concerns about health and obesity spread. Last month the World Health Organization suggested that individuals limit consumption of added sugars in food and drinks to 6 teaspoons a day—less than the 9 teaspoons in a 12-ounce can of Coke.

Soda volume in Mexico, Coke’s second-largest market, have fallen an estimated 5% or more since the country introduced a tax on sugary beverages in January.

The new drag on Coke’s U.S. business is diet soda. Diet Coke volume has been down for eight straight years, accelerating the decline in the past three. Diet Coke sales plunged 6.8%, in volume terms last year, according to Beverage Digest.

2. But instead of focusing only on diversifying into non-soda beverages,

…the Atlanta-based company plans to double down on its namesake brand. The company is boosting advertising, introducing new products, and using singer Taylor Swift as a pitchwoman. Chief Executive Muhtar Kent has said that last year, when Coke’s U.S. soda volume dropped 2%, was an anomaly. Soda can return to healthy growth, even in the U.S., especially if it is a brand name like Coke, he said.

“Coca-Cola remains magical. We need to work even harder to enhance the romance of the brand in every corner of the world,” Mr. Kent told investors in February. He regularly refers to flagship Coke as the company’s “oxygen” and “lifeblood.”

For starters, he plans to increase global advertising by $1 billion over the next three years. The company spent $3.3 billion last year. Much of the increase will be devoted to soda, including the Sprite and Fanta brands.

But with even Warren Buffet saying “I’m 100% in accord with Coca-Cola’s business strategy and regard Muhtar Kent as the ideal CEO for Coca-Cola” it’s probably a safe bet that Mr Kent (and Mr Buffett) can see the future of Coke’s bubbly sugar water in a way no one else can.

Sampling – The Real World’s Freemium Model

In the software world, the “Freemium” model exists to get users to try out a new service, hopefully like it, get hooked to it and then ultimately start to pay for it because their continued usage triggers some kind of threshold.

So what’s Freemium’s offline counterpart? In some sense, “Sampling”.

That’s what purveyors of new products – shampoo, candy, toothpaste, cereal, etc. – do when they want to introduce something to the public, are not sure if the public will actually like it and pay for it, but want to test the waters beyond focus groups and such. (But it differs from the “Freemium” model in that sampling is a once or twice kind of thing, unlike a Freemium service which could well go on forever. Consider a Dropbox user today that’s might always stay under the 2GB threshold…)

How importance is it, to the rise of new brands and products?

Consider the now-ubiquitous Kind bars. Caroline Fairchild, writing about their rapid spread across the US had this to say:

in 2008, private equity firm VMG Partners invested in the company, although it will not disclose the amount.

Kind bars were sold in just 20,000 locations when VMG got involved. The investors immediately put their capital to work to get the product into more people’s hands with free samples. (CEO) Lubetzky’s sampling budget was $800 in 2008, and he was reluctant to increase it, but by 2009 that budget ballooned to $800,000. Today, Kind spends upwards of $10 million in efforts to get people to try Kind bars. The company has a full-time field marketing team in 25 U.S. markets that organizes sampling in stores, sponsoring sporting events, taking free samples into corporate offices and putting them in gift bags at company events.

The full article touches on other aspects of Kind’s rapid growth – and for anyone (interested) in the CPG space, should make for an interesting read. 

Back To The Blog

It’s good to be back again following a major change…Hope to once again blog here on a semi-regular basis.

GAAP vs Exec Compensation

GAAP is increasingly not good enough for exec compensation.

That’s the argument behind an article in The WSJ today, which chronicles the rise of non-standard metrics in determining exec compensation.

Consider, for example, Goodwill:

Some observers said goodwill write-downs shouldn’t be stripped out. Goodwill is the intangible asset a company carries to account for the excess of what it paid for an acquisition over the net value of the acquiree’s hard assets. Many observers regard goodwill write-downs as acknowledgment that the company overpaid, and so they shouldn’t be excluded from a measure used to evaluate management’s performance.

Medical-device maker Boston Scientific Corp. had goodwill write-downs in five of the last six years, but granted incentive pay to its CEO each year. The company had a $4.1 billion 2012 loss under standard accounting measures, but after excluding a $4.4 billion goodwill write-down and other charges, it had a $933 million profit used to set short-term incentive pay.

I might be naive here, but given the global competition and bidding wars for talent, isn’t this to be expected though?

More, at

- Posted from WP Mobile; expect formatting inconsistencies –

Value vs Pricing: Explaining WhatsApp’s Seemingly Insane Valuation

Depending on who you ask, talk to or read, Facebook’s $19B acquisition of WhatsApp provoked three principal emotions since the deal was announced last week – disbelief, fear and envy. Sometimes all three at the same time.

Considering that 235 of the S&P 500 companies, including venerable names such as Southwest Airlines and The Gap have market caps to the south of that magical number, at the heart of the matter lies the question – where did $19B come from?

Here to help us understand this acquisition from a Value vs Pricing perspective (one that makes a lot of sense to me) is Prof Aswath Damodaran, a Professor of Finance at NYU (his blog is eminently worth following; AFAIK, many that are interested in Corporate Finance and Valuations do), who starts off his excellent post by saying:

The first is that there are two different processes at work in markets. There is the pricing process, where the price of an asset (stock, bond or real estate) is set by demand and supply, with all the factors (rational, irrational or just behavioral) that go with this process. The other is the value process where we attempt to attach a value to an asset based upon its fundamentals: cash flows, growth and risk. For shorthand, I will call those who play the pricing game “traders” and those who play the value game “investors”, with no moral judgments attached to either. The second is that while there is absolutely nothing wrong or shameful about being either an investor  (No, you are not a stodgy, boring, stuck-in-the-mud old fogey!!) or a trader (No, you are not a shallow, short term speculator!!), it can be dangerous to think that you can control or even explain how the other side works. When you are wearing your investor cape, you can be mystified by what traders do and react to, and if you are in your trader mode, you are just as likely to be bamboozled by the thought processes of investors.

Cash flows, ROE, growth, users and valuation based on comparables (of sorts) all follow before he draws some conclusions:

  1.  If you are an investor, stop trying to explain price movements on social media companies, using traditional metrics – revenues, operating margins and risk. You will only drive yourself into a frenzy. More important, don’t assume that your rational analysis will determine where the price is going next and act on it and trade on that assumption. In other words, don’t sell short, expecting market vindication for your valuation skills. It won’t come in the short term, may not come in the long term and you may be bankrupt before you are right.
  2. If you are a trader, play the pricing game and stop deluding yourself into believing that this is about fundamentals. Rather than tell me stories about future earnings at Facebook/Twitter/Linkedin, make your buy/sell recommendation based on the number of users and their intensity, since that it what investors are pricing in right now.
  3. If you are a company and you want to play the pricing game, I think that the key is to find that “pricing variable” that matters and try to deliver the best results you can on that variable.

Go read the full post. And when you do that, don’t forget to read its near-poetic and semi-philosophical final paragraph. 

100 to 1: How Satya Nadella Became Microsoft’s CEO

The search for CEOs at large global companies – something that is often done under the harsh glare of the media spotlight – has always fascinated me.

How does one downselect candidates? How do some candidates graciously take themselves out of the running? What does the board do when the search seems to go on and on?

For Microsoft-specific answers to these and more, head over to The WSJ for a very interesting look at how Satya Nadella came its 3rd CEO ever –

PS: Of course, good luck to Mr Nadella as he reorients one of the most iconic companies of our times.

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