Coca-Cola to help tackle diabetes scourge, but sugar tax won't help: CEO

Coca-Cola to help tackle diabetes scourge, but sugar tax won't help: CEO

CEO James Quincey admits that soft drink companies may have been too slow to offer a wider range of healthier options. He also tells Conversation With how he was let in on Coke's biggest secret.

Coca-Cola is sold everywhere in the world except for two countries - Cuba and North Korea. With the recent Trump-Kim summit, will that change? We talk to the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company James Quincey.

SINGAPORE: Despite the diabetes and obesity problem in Singapore, the United States and other parts of the world, The Coca-Cola Company will always make available its classic Coke in its original formula – with the full amount of sugar.

That is nine teaspoons of sugar in a 330-millilitre can, and Coca-Cola president and chief executive officer James Quincey told Channel NewsAsia’s Conversation With that “there’s nothing wrong with it if it’s part of a balanced diet”.

Singapore’s guideline on the daily intake of added sugar is that it should not exceed 10 teaspoons.

For a 330ml canned drink, this is equivalent to the 12-per-cent sugar cap that the seven biggest soft drink firms here, including Coca-Cola, agreed to meet by 2020 in a pact with the Government.

“While there is an obesity crisis, clearly there's a large part of the population that doesn’t have that,” said Mr Quincey. “But clearly, some people need to take more action than others. So that’s why’re investing strongly (in Coke No Sugar),” he noted, adding that the product was growing by “double digits everywhere around the world, including Singapore”.

READ: 7 major soft drinks manufacturers in Singapore to reduce sugar content in drinks

He admits that beverage companies like his may have been too slow to give consumers a wider range of healthier options.

Coca-Cola is making up for lost time by focusing on “reformulating some of our products, on innovation, on making packages smaller and on diversifying the portfolio into new drinks”.

“We’re not perfect, but we’re very clear now on what we need to do,” he added. That includes launching tea products with no sugar.

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Coca-Cola president and chief executive officer James Quincey.


Governments are implementing sugar taxes, however, because they think manufacturers are not doing enough. This might be on the cards in Singapore too.

And the likely result of such a tax is that sales would go down, admitted Mr Quincey, who questioned whether the objective of “trying to help people rebalance the way they consume” would be achieved.

“I think the data coming out is (showing that) very narrow taxes on few categories in the context of food and beverages, where there are lots of other options for people to go for, aren’t proving to be effective,” he said.

“There’s a recent study done on the Californian tax, and what it showed is, of course, the sugared sparkling beverages went down. But people bought other food and beverages, so their total calories went up. So it’s not going to help solve it.”

The solution, he added, would involve “many stakeholders”, including manufacturers playing their part. “We embrace that idea. We want to be a part of helping to solve that problem, and yet allow people to enjoy great-tasting beverages.”


It has been said that the formula for Coca-Cola, which was invented in 1886 in the American state of Georgia, is probably the most closely kept secret in the food and drink industry.

And the way Mr Quincey described how he was let in on it suggested as much. “There’s a secret ingredient. There’s a secret recipe, and it’s held in a very large safe,” he said with a smile, when asked.

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Coca-Cola was invented on May 8, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Despite having worked in the company for more than two decades, even as its chief operating officer, he declared that it was only after he became its CEO last year that he was told the secret, in cloak-and-dagger fashion.

“We make a special trip to the secret location where we have this huge fortress room – multiple feet thick of concrete cube,” he said.

In there is a filing cabinet with the files. And it’s all written down in old typewriting and scribblings on it … And you have to sign the register, (stating) I came in on this day and I read this bit.

Signatures “going back decades” are still there on the page, and the record shows that only “a few tens of people” have known the secret in the company’s long history.

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While he called this “part of the magic” of the company, some may wonder if Coca-Cola is perfectly all right to drink, with YouTube videos even showing how the soda can be used to scour toilets.

When this was put to him, he said: “Any product, whether it’s Coke or any of the other beverages, is either slightly acidic or slightly alkaline.

“If you want the simple experiment, get a lemon, squeeze some lemon juice and then try it with an orange, or try it with some pineapple juice. You’ll find that all of those liquids, ultimately, will wipe stuff off. So beverages are totally safe to consume.”

Watch the full interview on Conversation With here. New episodes every Thursday at 8.30pm SG/HK.

Source: CNA/dp