As the world’s population continues to grow and the looming climate crisis becomes a fact of daily life, the need for sustainable practices in global supply chains is being thrown into increasingly sharp relief. In few places is the truth of this clearer than in the food and beverage market. Waste reduction, recycling and sustainable packaging alternatives are the name of the game.
“I see sustainable packaging becoming the key industry goal in coming years,” says George Chantoumakos, Supply Chain Director at the Nigerian Bottling Company. Alongside increasing the sustainability of its supply chain, the Nigerian Bottling Company, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co, is harnessing the power of digital transformation to shape its Nigerian supply chain into an efficient, interconnected operation. “Any industrial player that wants to remain relevant to the consumer needs to fully embrace a digital, interactive supply chain,” Chantoumakos explains. We sat down with him to discuss his continuing role in developing the Nigerian Bottling Company’s interconnected, digital and increasingly sustainable supply chain.
Chantoumakos arrived in Nigeria in 2017, quickly coming to relish the central role that the Nigerian Bottling Company plays in Coca-Cola Hellenic’s global strategy. “Coca-Cola Hellenic operates in 28 countries, offering opportunities to live and work in very different markets and societies. The company is built on strong values which remain the foundations of the group today. Working for Coca-Cola Hellenic combines the feeling of ownership of a family company with the breadth, depth and international scope associated with working for a blue chip company,” he enthuses. “The Nigerian Bottling Company is the heart of Coca-Cola Hellenic – it’s where it all started back in 1951. It’s the group’s only African operation, which gives us a unique position in the company portfolio. Special market conditions and a tough operating environment are coupled with huge growth opportunities.” The company operates eight plants across the country, in locations such as Lagos, Maiduguri and Port Harcourt. Nigeria is a rising star in Sub-Saharan Africa’s economies, and Chantoumakos is excited by the role that Coca-Cola Hellenic will play in meeting the challenges and opportunities of rapid growth.
From around 122.4mn at the turn of the millennium, Nigeria’s population has exploded, exceeding 202mn in 2019. It is now the seventh most-populous country on the planet, growing by 62.1% in the past 20 years. For context, the next-fastest growing country, India, grew by 36%. This population growth is, according to Chantoumakos, a key driver of the need for increasingly sustainable consumer goods packaging. “The Polyethylene terephthalate (PET - the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family) market has exploded, and the country’s recycling infrastructure and regulatory framework are still some steps behind,” Chantoumakos explains. “Plastic pollution is a high priority problem for regulatory bodies to solve. The food and beverage industry - especially multinationals that operate in territories where recycling is already working well - will be driving the action plans leading to zero plastic waste.”
In addition to working towards a zero-waste plastic packaging solution and creating a cyclical supply chain for plastic production, Chantoumakos explains that the Nigerian Bottling Company is also expanding its use of more sustainable options in the form of glass and aluminium cans. “Glass, being a fully recyclable and environmentally friendly packaging material, should be the thing that protects the Nigerian population from overwhelming plastic pollution. Glass bottles also address the market’s need for affordability,” he says. “This year, the Nigerian Bottling Company is also investing in a new, state of the art canning line, and we will continue with our returnable glass bottle business.”
In addition to being a driving force behind Nigeria’s food and beverage industry embracing more sustainable packaging strategies, the Nigerian Bottling Company is also dedicated to contributing to the development of quality of life in the region. “Considering the fact that Nigeria is experiencing infrastructural challenges impacting both electricity and water supply, my role comes with a great deal of responsibility to the Nigerian consumer,” Chantoumakos explains. “If I had to highlight one accomplishment since arriving at the Nigerian Bottling Company, I would emphasise the construction projects we did in Kano State, Nigeria, providing fresh water via two new tube wells to the Kano State Water Board, and from there providing potable water for up to 1mn inhabitants of the state. We also established a free treated water supply point outside our plant and refurbished a local school in the vicinity of our plant. These sustainability projects, especially the water supply, have dramatically improved the day to day lives of millions of people. Making a difference in a country where basic infrastructure is not a given is something I hadn’t experienced before in my career and something I will surely take with me when leaving the country.”
Within the Nigerian Bottling Company’s own operations, Chantoumakos has been working constantly in order to incorporate new technologies that increase efficiency, speed and connectivity, and allow the company to more fully utilise its talented workforce to drive greater supply chain success. “Connectivity remains the key challenge to fully deploying digital transformation across our operations. We’re working with our main suppliers to increase connectivity between our equipment and to elevate our predictive maintenance capabilities. Similarly, for our fleet management division, we are investing in full digitalisation with interactive, real time report systems for optimising our fleet’s efficiency,” says Chantoumakos. He adds: “Industry 4.0 is expected to provide a direct connection between the consumer and manufacturers, making the industry almost immediately responsive to consumer feedback and developing needs.” In Nigeria, this is perhaps truer than anywhere else in the world. “In this market there is a paradox: while the basic infrastructure remains a challenge in several areas across the country, internet use is extremely high, especially amongst younger people,” Chantoumakos elaborates. “I recently read that Nigeria is second worldwide, behind the Philippines, in time spent per capita on social media. This indicates the huge opportunities we have to pull feedback from consumers almost instantly and adjust our plans accordingly.”
Looking to the future, Chantoumakos is confident that the Nigerian Bottling Company will continue to live up to its tradition of excellence within the market by incorporating digital technologies that allow it to meet demand in a sustainable way. “We’ve been operating in Nigeria for 68 years, and we are very proud of the fact that the entire Coca-Cola Hellenic group originated here. We have been sustaining market leadership in times of great hardship in the country, so we can only plan to continue being market leaders in every sector in which we operate.”