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Coca-Cola and Enterprise Ireland help small businesses grow with the Thrive Project

Posted By The Marketing Institute, Wednesday 17 April 2019

Petre Sandru
Petre Sandru, Country Manager, Coca-Cola Ireland.


Petre Sandru, Country Manager, Coca-Cola Ireland, discusses how the Thrive Project came to life, how it helps the next generation of food companies grow through unique insights and learning, and how it fits into Coca-Cola's strategy.


How did the Thrive Project come to life?
The Thrive Project that is operated by Coca-Cola and Enterprise Ireland ran initially as a one-year pilot project in 2016. It was established by Irial Finan who at that time served as Executive Vice President and President of Coca-Cola’s Bottling Investment Group. Irial is a Roscommon native and had a 36 year career in Coca-Cola working right up to the highest levels of senior management in Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta. He was invited to participate in the Irish Government’s Global Irish Economic Forum and committed to establish a mentorship programme for emerging Irish food and drink businesses giving them access to senior Coca-Cola leaders and exposure to how Coca-Cola runs its global business. In turn the companies would be challenged to apply what they learned from Coca-Cola to their own business to help them to scale and grow internationally.  Enterprise Ireland kindly agreed to partner with Coca-Cola in this new project and the first eight companies were selected for the initial pilot. And from there, The Thrive Project was born.

Tell us a bit about the initiative.
Thrive has evolved in its four years, but the main principles stay the same. We begin the programme with an intensive two-day workshop at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta. There the companies meet senior Coca-Cola executives and hear from experts across functions – supply chain, strategy, packaging, procurement, new brands, and many others. They have a unique opportunity to hear how a company on our scale operates and segments its business. They also meet some of the Irish people who hold senior positions in Coca-Cola’s global management. Due to Coca-Cola’s manufacturing footprint in Ireland there are opportunities for Irish people to develop in the company, and it is always good to connect with them during the programme. After Atlanta Enterprise Ireland run a series of business diagnostics with the companies to identify what areas of their business can feel the benefit of our programme. We then bring the companies to our Western Europe headquarters in London for a crash-course in Coca-Cola marketing. Once again, this is led by one of our Irish leaders who give them an overview of the practices and processes that have helped make Coca-Cola so famous for its excellent marketing campaigns. In London the companies also visit Innocent and hear about their own journey from disruptive start-up to major businesses, and how it manages to maintain its own unique identity and culture while simultaneously being owned by The Coca-Cola Company. The business diagnostic then enters a final phase before a formal graduation from The Thrive project.

How were the participants selected?
Enterprise Ireland select eight food and drink companies with high potential to participate. These companies must be established in the domestic market and are now looking to expand their operations internationally. They must be committed to the programme for six-months and we ask that one individual at senior management level (usually the company CEO and/or founder) participates throughout. This helps the dynamic among the group that is a key component of the project.

Tell us about their journey.
The Thrive Project participants are all fully committed to their businesses. Generally they have been there from day one, as founders or early leaders. They may be operating across functions and very much involved in the day-to-day running of their business. They will have achieved a certain level of success locally but are now seeking to expand their business and their markets. They may be experts in one field of their business but are eager to develop a certain side of their business to the greatest possible extent. The Thrive Project is designed to help them but also to give them some time and space to reflect on how their business is evolving. It also allows them to see that a company the size and scale of Coca-Cola also faces similar dilemmas. We also don’t get everything right. But when we don’t we try and learn from it and build from there. I think that hearing that from Coca-Cola and listening to how we operate our business gives them both inspiration and confidence to develop their own business models.

How does the initiative fit into Coca Cola’s strategy?
The Thrive Project has been a real success for us and is something we are proud of. It is a project that exists only in Ireland, yet other Coca-Cola markets are looking at implementing similar business development projects. For Coca-Cola it is about recognizing our place in the Irish food and drink industry and adopting a leadership position to help others to grow. It is also about developing a strong network of Irish businesses and individuals both within Coca-Cola and in the wider industry in Ireland.

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