‘Many people are trying to put chains on our freedom’: UNESDA president


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New UNESDA president, Dominique Reiniche
New UNESDA president, Dominique Reiniche
New UNESDA president Dominique Reiniche, also president of Coca-Cola Europe, warns that opponents ‘trying to put chains on our freedom to innovate’ risk stifling the development of the European soft drinks industry.

In her keynote address to the 2013 Innobev Global Beverages Congress organized by Zenith International in Warsaw, Poland, Reiniche (pictured) told key industry players that their success and ability to grow depended on consumer brand love.

We cannot lose it, we must deserve it every day,”​ she said. “We also need to deserve the trust people have in our companies, in the quality and taste of our products. We have to bring them an affordable pleasure every day, and stick to these fundamentals.”

Reiniche had a stark warning for industry: “Some external forces – and I won’t name them – are eroding our consumer trust. Some factors are creating artifical increases [i.e. soft drinks taxes] in our prices that our cash-strapped conumsers find difficult to sustain.”

“Many people are trying to put chains on our freedom to innovate and our freedom to undertake new projects. And they could really stifle our sector and its development if we are not strong enough.”

Excess weight and obesity was clearly a critical issue, Reiniche acknowledged, adding that it was no surprise that public opinion and authorities was responding to this factor.

Obesity rates had doubled in Europe over the past 20 years, she said, with more than 50% Europeans now either overweight or obese, although non-acoholic drinks only accounted for below 3% caloric intake, on average, across the continent.

“It’s a complex problem with many different reasons, and we cannot be the only ones to create solutions. But we have to play a part and do our fair share,”​ Reiniche said.

Nonetheless, increasing numbers of consumers made the link between obesity and non-alcoholic drinks, with the soft drinks industry targeted as “easy targets and scapegoats”​, she claimed.

Reiniche noted that the situation had reached a new level of seriousness for industry, with an proliferation of negative news articles – linking soft drinks to obesity, or agitating for soda taxes – entering in the mainstream media from 2011.

UNESDA’s new president suggested three ways in which industry could push back. Firstly, through interactions with the media, public authorities and civil society “in much more impactful way”​.

The beverage industry needed to face down smear campaigns on the internet that were global in nature and spread through social media channels, Reiniche added, and “find a much stronger voice”​.

Secondly, industry needed to prove to consumers – via education and a choice of low, zero calories options or smaller servings – that it was serious about obesity prevention, and that it didn’t just seek to generate income and profit.

Thirdly, the soft drinks industry needed to be more proactive in communicating its work on providing new innovations and choices to the broader public, and not just governments or NGOs, “so they continue loving our brands, and trusting our companies,” ​Reiniche said.

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