Samoa Breweries ditches coke for focus on beer

Samoa Breweries Limited says its decision to stop producing Coca-Cola products on island was not taken lightly, but was needed to secure the company's future, General Manager Brent Adams says. 

Speaking to the Samoa Observer on Monday, Mr. Adams said consumers are seeing plastic bottles on the shelves because they are significantly cheaper to import than glass, being so much lighter.

The brewery had to close its sugary drink operations late last year, partly in response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Adams confirmed they had to lay off around 25 staff, who were given two months of notice and generous severance packages to compensate.

Around half of those workers have stayed on in limited part-time roles, he added.

But with the Coca-Cola favourites now imported, the local business is focused on Vailima.

COVID-19 has affected all businesses in Samoa, and Samoa Breweries is no exception, Mr. Adams said.

This weekend, the Central Bank of Samoa reported the country is now in a full recession, having recorded its fourth quarter in a row of falling gross domestic product.

Responding to concerns about pollution and recycling, Mr. Adams said Samoa Breweries and Coca-Cola Amatil are committed to supporting local recycling programmes, from the collection to ensuring bottles and cans are processed off the island.

He said Samoa Breweries is not the first company to import plastic and tin to Samoa but will be actively working towards cleaning up after itself.

“Last year The Coca-Cola Company’s philanthropic arm, The Coca-Cola Foundation, provided Samoa Recycling and Waste Management Association with a grant of $WST100,000 to start a plastic bottle and can recycling programme in Samoa.  After being collected, the material is sent offshore for recycling,” he said.

“To build on this programme, we are actively investigating options to increase the number of bottles and cans that are collected and recycled.”

But the local operation no longer has the capacity to produce coke and its cousins in their iconic glass bottles, he said.

However the new move to imported beverages means a wider range of sugar-free options, Mr. Adams said.

Coke and Sprite ‘no-sugar’ will be available in a range of sizes, with more products to come, he said.

Focusing solely on the Vailima part of the business means being able to look after Samoa’s local brew, the General Manager said.

According to a media release from the company, over 6,000 cases of Vailima have been exported to Hawaii and Australia in the last few months.

Mr. Adams said it is just the beginning for Samoa Breweries’ work to improve its impact on the environment.

In 2020, environmental group Break Free From Plastic found Coca-Cola is for the third year in a row the world’s worst plastic polluter in its annual audit.

It showed up in 51 out of 55 countries’ rubbish surveyed by 15,000 volunteers. Out of 346,494 pieces of plastic waste collected, 13,834 were clearly marked with a Coca-Cola brand, making it one of the top brands identified in such a number of pieces.

Samoa’s Coca-Cola operations have already invested in improving awareness about recycling and local collection work, Mr. Adams said, and there will be more effort in this sector:

“We can’t do everything, but we will do everything we can.”

But keeping the locally produced soft drink operations was no longer an option, if the business and its near 100-strong workforce was going to have a sustainable future, he said.

“This was not a simple decision, there are multiple elements at play,” he said.

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