The Equator Bottlers Co. of Kisumu
Exploring the History of the Complex Relationship between the Company, and the Local People

There is a more than seventy-year-old relationship to explore between the Coca-Cola affiliated Equator Bottlers of Kisumu and the local people of Kisumu. This is a company that bottles and sells Coca-Cola Co. beverages in Kisumu. But who are they? The Equator Bottlers LTD and the Coca-Cola Co. have operated in Kisumu and Africa for many years and have had a tremendous impact on the lives of people who live around its facilities. How have the facilities have affected the lives of people living around them? These are questions worth pondering over a bottle of soda or two.

The Equator Bottlers facility in Kisumu is one of the largest production and distribution points for the global Coca-Cola Co. in Africa. Even though major events have taken place in the history of Equator Bottlers since it started operating some decades ago, Equator Bottlers LTD has maintained a presence not only in Kisumu, but also in Kenya. So then, what kind of facility is the Equator Bottlers? How is it as a neighbor to the people living in Kisumu? We want to know: “Who Are Equator Bottlers?” This story examines the history of Equator Bottlers Co. since its founding, and the socio-economic impact it has had on Kisumu and Kenya more broadly.

The Equator Bottlers Co. in Kisumu operates as a bottling and distribution subsidiary of the U.S.-based Coca-Cola Co. As a business, the bottling plant produces and distributes more than 40% of the Coke branded drinks for Africa into the region of Kenya. From their current state-of-the-art plant, the company reaches a market of more than 6.2 million people across Kisumu, Kakamega, Kericho, Bomet, Siaya, Busia and Vihiga counties. Their mission statement is “to establish an integrated global enterprise while intensifying our local focus, attracting and engaging best talent to enhance leadership, image and increase per capital consumption to capture profitable growth.”

The company and its subsidiaries achieve this through two overlapping strategic objectives: “To achieve sales volume growth of at least 10% annually,” and also “to achieve a return on investment, on net assets and gross profit of 20%.” Fundamentally, the business activity of Equator Bottlers LTD is to bottle beverages from concentrates, distribute those goods through their more than 20,000 outlets, and market those products at a profit along the way with the intention of profitable growth in the future. The reason Equator Bottlers LTD and the Coca-Cola Co. can hold such high growth objectives today is the historic strength of their bottling and distribution operation.

The first connection between the Coca-Cola Co. and Kisumu was not Equator Bottlers LTD, but the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Kisumu which opened in 1950. Available photographs show the bottling and distribution operations were directly controlled by the subsidiaries of the Coca-Cola Co. Although no definitive record has been located, the original Coca-Cola production facility was likely located on or near Obote Road (formerly Mumias Road) in Kisumu, and it set the historical practice standards for manufacture and distribution of Coca-Cola Co. sodas in Africa.

After the first plant on Obote Road closed, Equator Bottlers LTD started operating a new plant in 1966 at a location near the current Tumaini Supermarket on the street connecting Ang’awa Street to Busia-Nairobi Highway, and then moved on to its current and more modern bottling and distribution facility in Kisumu. Since this second plant facility operated until recently, there is still an Equator Bottlers’ office on the site now. However, the bottling operations there have ceased and the entire building is in the process of being demolished. There are no more pallets of drinks or trucks moving goods from this location in the central business district. There is in fact almost no rubble even left inside the old plant’s walled perimeter. Because of this, the future of the site as a part of Equator Bottlers is uncertain but it does reveal the Coca-Cola Co.’s smart pattern of growth.

At the moment, the Equator Bottlers LTD produces and distributes more than a dozen different drink brands from its massive state-of-the-art bottling facility, located just south of the Kisumu International Airport on Nkrumah Road. The facility was built in 2011 with the aim of expanding production capabilities as part of the global Coca-Cola Co.’s strategic growth. Furthering that objective, the facility added a modern PET plastic bottle production line in 2015. Products like Coca-Cola, Dasani Water, and Fanta beverages are produced en-masse from this plant for local and regional sale across Kenya and Uganda. The operation also supports Kisumu’s beverage sales with the daily distribution of ice.

To truly understand the Coca-Cola Co.’s development process in Kisumu, one has to look at its history in Africa more broadly. In 1928 the Coca-Cola Co. first imported sodas to the continent via the Cape Town City in South Africa. Twenty years later, the company expanded distribution operations into Nairobi, Kenya, in 1948. Then, in 1950, the Coca-Cola Co. finally established a bottling plant in Kisumu.

The period from 1945 through 1963 saw the establishment of light industries across East Africa. One of the most significant industries to ramp up at this time was bottling, which already existed in Kenya although primarily for beer. The levels of investment, production, and profitability for this economic sector rose exponentially among multinational branch corporations, yet there was no significant increase in the number of Kenyans employed all the way through 1970. This fuller development history of the Coca-Cola Co. in Africa, coupled with Equator Bottlers LTD’s own declaration they are a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Beverages Africa entity, therefore places Equator Bottlers’ past firmly in a colonial perspective and raises questions about what has changed.

The Equator Bottlers of today has clearly changed. It is apparent both in the way high-level executives discuss the companies’ operations and in the way Equator Bottlers reaches the local community. The major turning point, one could argue, was the implementation of the strategic growth campaign. While one campaign cannot erase the blights of colonialism, it has shifted the relationships of the companies and Kisumu in some beneficial ways for the local people.

In the run-up to 2020, the Equator Bottlers and the Coca-Cola Company has engaged in a three-pronged campaign involving the expansion of their operating capacities, mass-market activation, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. This business model means that Africans must have a stake in the business, as described by public affairs and communication director for Coca-Cola Africa William Asiko in 2010. The growth programs’ focuses have been on improving education and living conditions, maintaining environmental standards, fostering community sustainability, and empowering girls and women.

There are now dozens of campaign initiatives, though the most prominent effort of the campaign has been the employment and empowerment of women. Looking to the 1950 photographs of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Kisumu, it is clear that the workforce was virtually all male. By 2020 in comparison though, some 20,000 or more women will be a part of the distribution network for the companies. In a city that had a 48% rate of people living below the poverty line in 2013, the focus on increasing women’s employment and spending more money on children’s’ healthcare and education, plus the overall well being of their families, has without a doubt been and will continue to be a net benefit to the community. In this way, the relationships between the company, the city, and the residents make Kisumu a global model.

Although Equator Bottlers’ and the Coca-Cola Co.’s achievements in empowering women are impressive, other elements of the relationship between the Coca-Cola Co., Equator Bottlers LTD, and the City of Kisumu are more complicated. There are those who feel that water extraction for the production of sodas in an environment facing chronic water shortage is a major challenge in the relationship between the companies, residents, and Kisumu.

Even more complications arise when the growth of plastic pollution is considered. The externalities of this extraction abuts the topics of public health and well-being because they redouble the initial negative effects of the water extraction on the environment.

Kisumu, like many other parts of Kenya and Africa, does face chronic water shortages. As a result, many residents have begun to dig wells for their drinking water. Complicating that is the prevalence of latrine toilets. Individually these two trends seem acceptable if not beneficial as the program constructs both wells and latrines. Yet as they exist together, there is a net result in environmental degradation and disease.

Equator Bottlers has decided to alleviate some of these problems by providing people with certain alternatives: residents of Kisumu can now obtain free water processed through the Equator Bottlers’ industrial pumping and filtration equipment from taps outside the plant. However, it would seem that such an alternative can only act as a band-aid to an issue affecting more people than those living around either Equator Bottlers plant in Kisumu or the Coca-Cola Co. plants in Africa generally. In this way also then, the relationship of the Coca-Cola Co., Equator Bottlers, and Kisumu deserves global attention.

Although the relationship between Equator Bottlers, the Coca-Cola Co., and Africa is long, change in the relationship between the facility and the people is in the air. The future is unforeseeable, but the many efforts taken today to deal with problems and challenges facing local consumers of its products should be well-taken. They should be considered as seeds planted.

The relationship between these companies, the residents, and the cities are complex. The global Coca-Cola Co. does consume African resources, but it also provides people with employment. The people like the company they work for and the success it brings to their lives. And, don’t forget that, after all- it is a wonderful thing to have an ice-cold Coca-cola soda on a hot day. The relationship between the company and the neighborhood is obviously improving. It is a relationship built around companies and human beings, as in this case, the human beings of Kisumu, but, as the people of Kisumu can attest, it is always worthwhile to share a soda with friends and ponder how best to enrich and develop our bonds as human beings.

Images

Corridor in Bottling Plant

Corridor in Bottling Plant: J. Mark Souther, “Equator Bottlers 1,” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/2487.

The Entrance Sign to Equator Bottlers' Third Plant

The Entrance Sign to Equator Bottlers' Third Plant: The front gate of Equator Bottlers LTD’s new state-of-the-art bottling and distribution plant on Nkrumah Rd. ~ J. Mark Souther, “Equator Bottlers Entrance Sign 3,” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/2498.

The Very First Coca-Cola Company Plant, Kisumu

The Very First Coca-Cola Company Plant, Kisumu: The first bottling facility for the Coca-Cola Co. in Kisumu was established in 1950. It was likely located on or near Obote Road (formerly Mumias Road). ~ “Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Kisumu Plant, ca. 1950 (1 of 2),” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/3132.

Perimeter Fence at Bottling Plant

Perimeter Fence at Bottling Plant: J. Mark Souther, “Equator Bottlers 7,” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/2493.

The Second Site of the Equator Bottlers Building Currently Under Demolition, Kisumu

The Second Site of the Equator Bottlers Building Currently Under Demolition, Kisumu: This is the second site of the Equator Bottlers, located within the Kisumu Central Business District. It was undergoing demolition in 2018. ~ Meshack Owino, “Equator Bottlers Building under Demolition (1 of 4),” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/3156.

Equator Bottlers Building under Demolition

Equator Bottlers Building under Demolition: Meshack Owino, “Equator Bottlers Building under Demolition (2 of 4),” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/3157.

Bottling Plant Demolition

Bottling Plant Demolition: The second bottling plant, under the Equator Bottlers LTD name, at the intersection of Achieng' Oneko Rd. and Nairobi Rd. was built in 1966 and demolished in 2018. Only the walled perimeter, rubble of the production plant, and a small office space remain today. ~ Google, April 2018

Pallets of Soda

Pallets of Soda: Not only are many varieties of Coca-Cola sodas and other drinks produced and bottled at the plant, they are also warehoused on site for distribution. ~ J. Mark Souther, “Equator Bottlers Warehouse 1,” Kisumu Archive, accessed January 22, 2019, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/2499.

The Kisumu Town Children's Park, Sponsored by Equator Bottlers

The Kisumu Town Children's Park, Sponsored by Equator Bottlers: The Coca-Cola Co. and Equator Bottlers are reinvesting in Kisumu to create a more sustainable future for the city. This sign shows one of dozens of projects throughout the city meant to benefit residents. ~ Photo by Caroline Nyambura

A Young Man Gathers Water Filtered by Equator Bottlers

A Young Man Gathers Water Filtered by Equator Bottlers: A young man gathers free water treated through the industrial equipment of Equator Bottlers to make it drinkable. In the face of city water shortages, water is available to residents of Kisumu from taps outside the new plant in whatever quantity is needed. ~ YouTube

A Coca-Cola Vendor Discusses the Benefit of Her Business

A Coca-Cola Vendor Discusses the Benefit of Her Business: One of the many distributors of Coca-Cola brand products in Kisumu discusses how the 5by20TM Campaign has impacted not only her own business, but the quality of life she can provide her children. ~ YouTube

Map

Nkrumah Rd, Kisumu, Kenya ~ The new Equator Bottlers production facility is located next to the airport, along Nkrumah Rd.. The second facility's location was south of the intersection between Achieng' Oneko Rd. and Nairobi Rd., on the long side of the triangular park. The first facility was located somewhere on or near Obote Rd (formerly Mumias Rd.) ~ http://www.equatorbottlers.co.ke/