ColaLife, MDCs and Coca-Cola’s Manual Distribution System

ColaLife Wedge in place
This is an assessment of where we have got to in our relationship with Coca-Cola, our understanding of the different mechanisms by which Coca-Cola is distributed in developing countries and the implications for the roll-out of the ColaLife idea. Although the progress we have made is significant, it is evident that we still have a very long way to go.

A summary of progress
When the campaign was re-started on 6 May 2008 with this blog post, our aspiration was simply to get in front of Coca-Cola to talk to them about the ColaLife idea and this is reflected in the name given to the Facebook Group we created at the time to convene people around the idea ‘Let’s talk to Coca Cola about saving the World’s children‘. Remarkably, we achieved this aim within 6 weeks when I was invited by Salvatore Gabola, the then Head of Global Stakeholder Relations, to a meeting in Brussels. Salvatore advised that if the ColaLife idea was going to get any traction within Coca-Cola, we would need to link it to an existing Coca-Cola commitment. That commitment was Coca-Cola’s pledge under the Business Call to Action to expand its Manual Distribution System in a way that maximises its impact of poverty reduction in Africa. This was described by Neville Isdell the then Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola in this video clip. Note that there is absolutely no mention of social product distribution at this point.

Find more videos like this on Business Fights Poverty

Contrast this with the interview given to the BBC and broadcast on their iPM programme on 25/4/09 – just a year after the campaign started:

Coca-Cola’s commitment to ColaLife | 25 04 2009 | EXTRACT by colalife

Here there is a clear commitment, form Coca-Cola’s Euan Wilmshurst, to look at how Coca-Cola can use their expertise in distribution to get medicines and other ‘social products’ to the people who need them.

While all this campaigning has been going on, ColaLife has also been working hard to get Coca-Cola an appropriate global NGO partner to make this happen and get field work underway in Tanzania. The partnership with AED was announced here on 4/8/09.

So far so good. But let’s not get too carried away. There’s a lot of wriggle room in what Coca-Cola have committed to and their Manual Distribution System will not meet all the aspirations of the ColaLife campaign.

Current issues and priorities
The ColaLife idea comes from putting these two facts together:

  1. You can buy Coca-Cola virtually anywhere you go in the world, including the most remote areas of developing countries
  2. In these same areas 1 in 5 children die before their fifth birthday through simple causes like dehydration from diarrhoea due to the lack of simple medicines and other ‘social products’

The issue is, that although Coca-Cola’s Manual Distribution System gets Coca-Cola to some of the most densely populated and deprived areas of Africa, it is not the system that gets to the most remote areas. So to fully succeed, ColaLife will have to work beyond Coca-Cola’s, urban, manual distribution system.

Issue 1: We need to understand better how Coca-Cola’s non-manual distribution systems work

Coca-Cola’s Manual Distribution System works through a network of Manual Distribution Centres (MDCs). These MDCs are in densely populated areas and have fairly small territories of a couple a square kilometres. Each MDC receives a full lorry load of Coca-Cola direct from the bottler every week or so. In MDC areas it is envisaged that the ‘social products’ would be introduced into the Coca-Cola distribution system at the bottling plant (see: FAQs) in boxes that would be carried in the cab of the lorry and that these would be dropped off, with the crates on Coca-Cola, at the MDC. It would be at the MDC that the ‘aidpods’ would be introduced into the crates. However, if the destination for the Coca-Cola is an MDC in a densely populated area, onward distribution of the ‘social products’ may not be necessary given that no-one within the catchment of an MDC is very far away from it. So, in the MDC system, the MDC may be the best ‘offload point’ for the ‘social products’ rather than the retail outlets they serve. Members of the public may come to the MDC to access the ‘social products’ or the ‘social products’ may be collected by a qualified community health worker and dispensed to the local population through a community health programme. In this scenario, ‘aidpods’ would not be a necessary part of the system.

Issue 2: We need to broaden our work with Coca-Cola and their partners to include their non-manual distribution systems

Issue 3: We need to encourage Coca-Cola to broaden their current focus on MDCs and look at how they could use their non-manual distribution networks for good.

Issue 4: We urgently need to prototype aidpod designs to test different materials and processes for introducing them, offloading them and, if necessary, returning them through the non-manual distribution system.

So, we’ve achieved a lot but there is still a lot to do.


  1. Just blogged – ColaLife, MDCs and Coca-Cola’s Manual Distribution System –

  2. RT @colalife: Just blogged – ColaLife, MDCs and Coca-Cola’s Manual Distribution System –

  3. […] 15/8/09 An assessment of where we are with Coca-Cola >>more […]

  4. @tmsruge ta da – via @colalife – looks very interesting

  5. TMS Ruge says:

    RT @Essex_courier: @tmsruge ta da – via @colalife – looks very interesting // heh! Beat me to it. #fightpovertyuganda

  6. Simon Berry says:

    @Essex_courier re link/source of the vehicles/remote area distribution. See #fightpovertyuganda @tmsruge #colalife

  7. […] MDC model is not the system that gets Coca-Cola to very remote areas, as we’ve pointed out previously. So what does? It appears that it is ‘the pull of the Coca-Cola brand’ that is […]