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Coca-Cola’s Project Last Mile

By July 4, 2024No Comments

“Coke is everywhere. In fact, when I travel to the developing world, Coke feels ubiquitous. […] If we can understand what makes something like Coca-Cola ubiquitous, we can apply those lessons then for the public good.”  —Melinda Gates

In Africa, nearly half of people lack access to critical medicines. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wanted to do something about it. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 34 percent of households in Africa were below the poverty line in 2019. 

From a supply chain perspective, Africa isn’t an easy market to cover. The continent covers 11.7 million square miles and is divided into 54 different countries. Physical infrastructure is a problem, and although $25 Billion is being spent to improve infrastructure, that is less than half of the total funding required.

Their supply chains are fragmented as well, and goods have to be loaded and unloaded many times as they switch transportation methods between points of origin and final destination.

And yet, as Melinda Gates pointed out in her TED Talk, Coca-Cola is ubiquitous. So why not let Coca-Cola become part of the solution for Africa’s healthcare supply chains? The company partnered with other public and private organizations to found Project Last Mile.

Project Last Mile

Since 2010, Project Last Mile has done work in eight countries in Africa: Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, and Tanzania. 

Each country had a different area of focus, had different needs, and needed the project team to address different conditions on the ground. It was like running 8 massive supply chain transformation projects at the same time.

Local healthcare workers had to be taught how to forecast demand for medicines and vaccines and they had to learn how to maintain cold chain equipment for the particular vaccines they were storing. 

Just like everyone else, they also needed real time data, granular data. Data that was good enough to help them look for and identify changes. As it turned out, Coca-Cola is just as good at supply chain transparency as they are at supply chain transformation. 

Buying the World a Coke

As former VP of Coca-Cola Customer Logistics Wendy Manning said in an interview, the company is able to deliver a drink from a factory to a local store within 48 hours. That takes more than magic to achieve consistently worldwide.

Local sourcing is part of how they do it – allowing most of the drinks to be manufactured in the country where they are sold. Coca-Cola has more than 900 bottling and manufacturing facilities across the world, and their factories have some of the world’s fastest production lines. 

They also have great supplier partnerships. Helen Davis, former VP of Coca-Cola Supply Chain in the US, used to hold supplier innovation days. The company’s procurement and marketing teams would present their plans and challenges to key suppliers, and then the suppliers would share their latest innovations. Coca-Cola gets most of the public credit, but it truly takes a village to manage their supply chain

The reality is that Coca-Cola doesn’t usually handle final mile delivery of their product – they can’t. They work through distributors who mix syrup from Atlanta, Georgia, bottle it, and move it down the chain. At each link in that chain, local knowledge is pulled in – that is regarded as essential to Coca-Cola’s success

Coca-Cola has figured out how to balance centralized strategy and local knowledge to reach the customer better than anyone else.

And that wonderful experience requires a lot of work behind the scenes. Coca-Cola maintains real time inventory tracking at the unit level, allowing them to keep products in stock. That information is then cycled back into their forecasting tools for steady distribution planning

All of these capabilities ended up being necessary in the work done by Project Last Mile.

Sierra Leone: Digitization Plus Dedication

Coca-Cola’s expertise in talent resource management, supply chain logistics, and distribution were called upon to strengthen the medical supply chain in the aftermath of an Ebola epidemic.

Digital tools were implemented to improve inventory tracking at healthcare facilities and increase data visibility to the final mile.

See if this sounds familiar… Project Last Mile leaders found that digitization on its own is not enough. Regular support and monitoring visits are also required. Facilities with ongoing support saw far less attrition than facilities receiving a digital tool without active support.

Mozambique: Optimizing for Seasonality

This country has difficult terrain and seasonal route variations; the roads are susceptible to mud and flooding. Over 70% of Mozambique’s population lives in rural and remote areas.

Coca-Cola needed to apply the very best of their best practices to improve delivery and increase the availability of medicines in hard-to-reach areas.

Project Last Mile developed a system to figure out how long it took to get to each healthcare facility in each season. They built a time and distance matrix between all storage depots and health facilities and made vehicle recommendations for different seasons.

AND… they managed to make it cost less to achieve, saving over $3 per kilometer traveled by adding intermediate warehouses. As the Project Last Mile website points out “Good information is the foundation of good distribution.”

Nigeria: Maintaining Cold Chain Uptime

Nigeria has some of the highest mortality rates in the world for children under the age of five and some of the lowest vaccination rates in the world. About 25 percent of these deaths could be prevented through routine immunizations.

But before that became a practical reality, they had to improve their cold chain. Nigeria needs 10,000 items of working cold chain equipment to cover their health facilities. At the start of the project, over 41 percent of clinics had no vaccine coolers. 35 percent of the coolers in place did not work. That left 4,500 functioning vaccine coolers supporting a population of over 213 million people

On the other hand, Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), Coca-Cola’s partner in Nigeria, ensures 24 to 48-hour repairs on all 77,000 of its refrigeration units, so they are working over 99 percent of the time. This was one of those no-brainer situations… and the capabilities were already on the ground. It just took an audacious idea to bring everyone together.

If anyone can have a cold Coca-Cola, but vaccines are in short supply, there is a problem. If Coca-Cola is reaching anyone who wants a drink but critical medicines are stuck in warehouses miles from patients and people who need them, there is a problem.

But if someone dreams up a better way, and the people in a position to help say yes, then you have a solution – one that has the ability to improve access to life-saving medicines worldwide.

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