Medicines hitchhike with Coca Cola to save lives
July 2, 2013 Editor 0
British nonprofit Colalife knows how to enjoy a Coke–its medicine gets to rural Zambians in Coke crates–but even medical supplies need local flavor to be successful.
The nonprofit’s AirPod is a pouch of medical supplies that can fit between the bottles on a Coke crate. The target: diarrhea, one of the biggest killers of children in the world. For about 90 cents, parents can purchase the rehydration salts and zinc, which they mix with water for their sick children to drink. If only dirty water is available, the plastic pouch doubles as a solar water purifier.
Colalife isn’t the first to see potential in Coca Cola’s 20 million retail points around the globe. Humanitarian superstars like Melinda Gates have wondered how NGOs can replicate the soda giant’s success in accessing the hardest-to-reach communities. Unlike Coca Cola, rural pharmacies in Africa are few and far between. Access to basic medical supplies like contraceptives and anti-diarrheal medications is limited, despite billions of dollars in international aid. As Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, president of the Global Fund for Women, put it recently, “We can find Coca-Cola in every village, why not family planning?”
But while Colalife has won multiple awards for its product design, the company’s biggest success actually came when Coca Cola turned down an offer to distribute the product directly. Colalife could still distribute the AirPod in Coke crates, but they would have to work directly with the distributors themselves. Instead of relying on Coca Cola for success, founder Simon Berry realized he had to rethink how he marketed the product to win over the local suppliers, The Financial Times reports, so he tapped into another ubiquitous product in Africa: mobile phones.
In 2011, the company trialed a voucher system: they gave away codes that customer could turn in to shopkeepers for free samples. The shopkeeper then texted the code to Colalife and got paid. Before the trial, the company had sold less than 1,000 packets. That number is now over 17,000.
It’s unlikely that a magic bullet will appear for nonprofits hoping to ship their products to the ends of the earth on the back of a Coke. Colalife still needs to scale their operations, and other health products that require refrigeration, such as vaccines, have transport needs that Coke’s network simply can’t handle. Coca Cola also seems reasonably concerned about keeping their distribution network efficient.
Whether or not Coke becomes the UPS of Sub-saharan Africa, the company has something worth teaching NGOs working there, as Colalife knows.Colalife’s AidPod is slim enough to fit between the Cokes in a crate, making it easy to get medicine to rural villages where it’s needed most. Photo: Simon Berry(flickr)Articles You Might Like:
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