Profits of Coca Cola’s Russian division quadruple, despite promise to pull out

Profits of Coca Cola’s Russian division quadruple, despite promise to pull out
Coca-Cola promised to pull out of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, but all it has done is reorganised its ownership structure, set up a new local cola brand and seen its profits quadruple in the last year. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 8, 2024

Multon Partners LLC, the Russian affiliate of the global beverage giant Coca-Cola HBC Holdings BV, saw its profits quadruple in 2023 to RUB10.25bn ($111mn), up from RUB2.3bn posted in 2022.

The problem is that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, the international soft drinks giant promised to pull out of the Russian market, but has failed to do so.

The 150% increase in profits from the previous year is partly a low base effect caused by the start of the conflict in Ukraine in 2022, when Coca-Cola announced in March 2022 it was pulling out of Russia. PepsiCo, a key competitor, made a similar announcement. However, the actual withdrawal from the Russian market has been fraught with complexities, the Insider, a Russian investigative publication, reports.

The domestically produced world famous Coca-Cola brand has indeed disappeared from shops, apart from bottles and cans imported from countries like Iran and Turkey, and has been replaced by a Russian analogy brand called “Dobry Cola” (Good Cola).

Despite Coca-Cola HBC's suspension of investments and the halt in concentrate supply for its traditional beverages, the new local operating company, Multon Partners, has shifted to sourcing raw materials domestically. Dobry Cola had become a market leader in the sweet soft drinks segment by the end of 2023, surpassing both local cola brands, "Chernogolovka" and "Cool Cola."

Coca-Cola HBC, in a statement to Reuters in August 2022, clarified that Dobry Cola is not associated with Coca-Cola or the Coca-Cola Co. Nonetheless, the transition from Coca-Cola HBC Eurasia LLC to Multon Partners did not alter the company's ownership structure, as it remains a subsidiary of the Dutch-based Coca-Cola HBC Holdings BV, which is part of the global Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company network, the Insider reports. Coca-Cola HBC AG, in turn, counts Coca-Cola among its significant stakeholders with a 23.2% share.

While Multon Partners enjoyed a leap in net profits, its revenue growth was more modest, increasing from RUB72.3bn in 2022 to RUB77.3bn in 2023, partly due to write-offs from the preceding year.

As bne IntelliNews has reported, only about 9% of foreign companies working in Russia pre-war have elected to leave what is Europe’s biggest consumer market. Many multinationals and international FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Russia and have turnovers up into the billions of dollars a year which they remain reluctant to give up.