How Coca-Cola, banks gave me lifeline during Covid

When Covid-19 struck in Kenya early last year, what followed was one of the worst health and economic crisis in living memory for many businesses in the country.

The pandemic brought with it vast economic damage, leaving many small businesses in a pretty bad shape. For some businesses, they collapsed, never to recover.

The crisis has, however, seen some businesses innovate with measures that will see them reap big as the economy returns to normalcy.

Read also: We have been small before; we can be big again

Take soft drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola for instance. Towards the end of 2020, through ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign, the soda giant started extending support to businesses across its entire value chain, including regional distributors, hotels and restaurants and similar other ventures. The strategy is to support its trade partners, who have been hit hard by the pandemic economic fallout, and see them remain open and operate safely during these turbulent times.

Yasmin Karim is one of the beneficiaries of Coca-Cola’s ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign. Yasmin’s enterprise is your typical grass to grace story – the embodiment of resilience and sheer willpower to succeed. With no capital, zero collateral, and nothing to show as banking history, Yasmin had grown her business from a small roadside store in Ukunda, Mombasa, to owning a fleet of ten trucks, just enough to serve her three distribution outlets in the booming tourist destination of Diani. In a good week, she could order and trade in Sh10 million worth of beverage from Coastal Bottlers Factory in Ukunda.

When Covid-19 struck, however, the pain of loss was real for Yasmin’s business.

“The first thing I decided to do was to ask all my workers to go into the hotels and take sodas that were about to expire so that we could sell them in the streets to avoid losses. The losses were there, but we averted a crisis,” Yasmin said.

Read also: Coca-Cola and its partners are boosting the hotel sector recovery during the post-Covid-19 era

She wasn’t alone in this unfolding global health and economic catastrophe. The hotels that used to give her orders soon fired their workers before closing shop. The hotels couldn’t operate as global travel restrictions took heavy toll on tourism while in the country, Covid containment measures saw many hotels and restaurants limited to take away services only.

Consequently, her stocks piled up, the demand nosedived while the weight of running costs for the business suddenly became too much to bear.

Coca-Cola extended a helping hand, strategically advising her to cut down her trucks from ten to five, and stagger any payments due. The beverage maker also agreed to shoulder the cost of crates while also offering her products on credit.

Yasmin says she passes the benefits to her customers, who are gradually re-opening and she is happy that many of them are bouncing back.

Under ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign, Coca-Cola has been working closely with financial partners such as Absa Bank, the Women Enterprise Fund and Cooperative Bank to provide loans to SME’s, enabling them to restock and operate their businesses during Covid.

These lenders also offer insurance and asset-based financing, allowing the distributors and retailers the flexibility to accept extended payment terms from Coca-Cola as well as increase their credit should they require it.

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