A taste of things to come

CO-RO’s fruit-based products have long been present in key Asian markets, and with the appointment of its first dedicated Executive Vice President (EVP) for Asia the company is embarking on a renewed push into a geographic region of immense opportunities

For a great many multinational companies, Asia represents a new frontier for growth and expansion, with many of its countries finding themselves in the midst of rises in both population size and economic prosperity. It makes sense then that more and more of these companies are introducing their products and brands to the region. In the case of one of the world’s leading providers of fruit-based soft drinks, concentrates and home-freeze ice-lollies, however, Asia has long been a recognised land of opportunity.

“CO-RO has been present in Asia for more than 50 years now, which makes up a significant proportion of our 76-year history, and has a strong presence in core markets such as China and Malaysia, and is also in the process of constructing a factory in Sri Lanka,” explains Søren Ravn, CO-RO’s Executive Vice President (EVP) for Asia, who himself was welcomed into the CO-RO family in September 2017.

Søren is certainly no stranger to the Asia market and has been living in Asia since 2006. Up until 2017 he worked for Carlsberg in Asia, holding CEO positions across China, Hong Kong and Malaysia/Singapore and was heavily involved in M&A in Asia as well. “What attracted me to CO-RO was that, at the time of joining the company, it was in the process of a great deal of activity as far as product innovation and targeting new geographies is concerned,” he details.

Asia clearly represented an important part of the latter strategy, as Søren’s appointment marked the first-time the company had appointed an EVP for the region, and today he and his team are based out of a dedicated office in Kuala Lumpur. “Mine and my team’s role is to help to make Asia a real growth engine for CO-RO, and to increase its contribution towards our total global revenues, which currently totals around 25 per cent, in a responsible and profitable way, and through a balanced mix of organic growth, new product innovation and acquisitions,” he continues.

Growing demand
As Søren goes on to reveal, the continued appeal of Asia comes from the multiple growth opportunities that CO-RO has identified for its various brands and ranges. “One example is the strength in demand we have seen for our traditional Sunquick cordial offering,” he says. “We have found these products to be especially prominent in countries with a predominantly Muslim population, for instance in Malaysia, where we have a market share of approximately 40 per cent. In such markets, consumers are looking for a high-quality product with lots of flavour options, and we are driving growth here by providing just that.

“We are also looking to aggressively target the food service sector with our cordial range, which they can provide to consumers through dedicated drink dispenser machines. For this industry, cordial is an attractive, affordable option as it only requires the transport and delivery of concentrates, and we have experienced a real success story in China with cordial dispenser machines over the last ten years or so.”

Committed to innovation
It was this success that, in-part, motivated the company to make a significant acquisition in November 2018, when it purchased a majority shareholding in Golden Creation Trade Co. Limited, which traded as JKD. A prominent distributing company, JKD holds brand distribution licenses for a range of products in catering, including one to sell juice products under China’s leading juice brand Huiyuan. The acquisition will allow CO-RO to tap into JKD’s vast distribution network, effectively doubling its point of sales in the catering sector and widening its range of products.

“CO-RO identified JKD as being a business that shared a similar model and ethos as its own, and saw a fantastic opportunity to expand its product offering and build upon its strengths,” Søren states. “While until now we have had a good degree of success in the juice dispenser segment in China, there has always been room for growth, and with the acquisition of JKD we now have access to a total of around 25,000 dispenser machines across the country, making us the clear front runner in the market.”

Another major opportunity for CO-RO in Asia involves taking the popularity and market awareness of its cordial range under the Sunquick brand and translate that brand strength to its ready-to-drink products. “We are still in the early days of these efforts, however our roll out of certain products, such as our 125ml Sunquick packs, into countries like Malaysia and Myanmar have already proven to be very popular with children and families, so we look forward to expanding the footprint of ready-to-drink products in the coming years,” Søren proclaims.

Stepping back from CO-RO’s products themselves, its teams across the world are also the beneficiaries of the company’s commitment towards technological innovation. “CO-RO has an incredible pipeline of innovative projects, and will have many more forthcoming with the opening of its state-of-the-art innovation centre at its headquarters in Frederikssund, Denmark,” Søren enthuses. “One example of our efforts to embrace technology has seen the incorporation of digital technology into the newest generation of dispenser machines in China. This allows us to track the health of the dispensers, the level of usage and stock, and the revenue generated per machine, all from our China head office in Guangdong. We are planning to speed up the rollout of this type of technology in 2019, and we see it as a great opportunity to achieve higher efficiencies while also closely monitoring consumer trends.”

For Søren, his team, and CO-RO at large, the overall aim of the company’s efforts in Asia is to achieve strong, albeit balanced, growth via a combination of organic expansion, innovation and acquisitions. “For me personally, I see so much future potential throughout Asia,” he concludes. “With a passionate, dedicated, local team in place, and an open-minded mindset as to how to manage growth responsibly, I feel that we are in an excellent position to reach our goal of increasing Asia’s contribution to the company’s total turnover, and sooner rather than later!”