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Fizzing to the top

Fizzing to the top

Appointed to the plum but the demanding position of Coca-Cola Beverages Botswana (CCBB) General Manager in January, David Chait is a man on a mission.

The South African is determined to ensure the company’s products remain the soft-drink of choice for locals.

With over 15 years of experience at Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA) Group, Chait certainly has the credentials to keep coke at the top.

An accountant by profession, the father-of-two joined CBBA’s South African enterprise in 2004, starting off in the finance department.

Through hard work, determination, and ability, Chait has risen through the ranks and is now perched at the top of operations in Botswana.

The Voice’s KABELO ADAMSON caught up with the inspiring businessman to talk all things coke.

Q. Coca-Cola is one of the biggest brands in the world. However, in recent years the local market has seen the emergence of considerably cheaper in-house brands. How has CCBB positioned itself to respond to this development?

We are very fortunate because we are, and believe that we are, loved by Batswana.

Brand coke is a loved brand in the country and we have got products which we are very proud of.

As long as we make them available and have them within an arm’s reach and cold, we believe we are in a good space.

But yes, we appreciate the presence of those in-house brands and understand they play for price but for us, we have very high standards in terms of quality and would never sacrifice that for price.

Q. It has been noted in the past that local operations cannot meet local demand. When can we expect the company to produce to full capacity to meet demand?

That is one of my top priorities to ensure that in the future we produce to full capacity to meet local demand without necessarily relying on imports to supplement what we produce here.

We can’t reveal much at the moment, but we have been in consultation with the government through the Ministry of Investment, Trade, and Industry (MITI) where we held discussions with Minister Peggy Serame on what we would need to invest because we are able to supplement a lot of that volume out of South Africa.

Any Coca-cola bottling operations would like to be self-sufficient and not rely on another party, but it needs to make economic sense for us to invest in a new plant in Botswana.

Q. But are there plans to invest in a new plant?

Yes, we are looking into it.

We have actually started developing a business plan to find out if it makes business sense and whether it is going to be financially viable to invest here because our preference would be to have a self-sustenance business here in Botswana.

We have started to engage with the government around potential investments that we have and what those investments would mean for us as a business.

One of the things we have to assess is whether there is any benefit of establishing a new plant here or continuing to supplement from South Africa – but I am hoping we can build a new plant here.

Q. Is the company looking at how it can create a value chain in order to empower the locals?

We are already trying to find ways on how we can localize our supply chains.

For example, to see which materials we need to make our products.

I have actually had that discussion with the Trade Minister in terms of what new business can be invested in Botswana that could support us because we believe there are opportunities in Botswana.

One of the Group goals, not just Botswana, is to localize supply as much as possible to grow local businesses.

We are mostly looking into the packaging area such as bottles and closures where we believe there is room to create businesses that will supply bottles and related stuff.

However, when it comes to the supply of sugar and other concentrates, unfortunately, we don’t have many options here, but definitely, with regards to packaging, opportunities exist.

Q. Should it happen that the company builds a new plant, would it mean CCBB could potentially export to other countries as well?

Yes, if we are to build the envisaged plant exporting has to be part of the equation!

I do believe there is room for us to export, especially to Namibia, which is something we feel would be beneficial to both of us.

We will have to decide whether to include countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe.

But my belief is that there is a low-hanging opportunity to export into Namibia and it is definitely part of the future plans.

Q. Roughly how much would the new plant cost?

I can’t disclose the numbers because it is still a work in progress, but we have shared them with the Ministry of Trade.

It is a very significant investment in Botswana, which will lead to a huge chunk of employment creation with our estimations forecasting 100 additional jobs.

It is a sizeable investment because we are speaking of a whole new plant; as we don’t have space here at our current plant, we will have to find a new site for it which will obviously come at a cost.

Q. The outbreak of Coronavirus has not spared any company – to what extent has it affected your business?

With regards to Covid-19, we regard ourselves very fortunate that we were part of the essential beverage industry which allowed us to continue producing and selling during the lockdown.

Before the lockdown we had implemented strict rules to protect the business and staff against infections, so we were able to continue running when the lockdown came.

In terms of how the business fared during that time, we were actually surprised at the levels at which the business declined, especially small bottles and small cans.

People were buying only for home consumption and those small packs declined which cost the business a fair amount of money.

It did surprise to be honest; we did expect a decline but not those strong declines we experienced!

Q. Kindly share some of the challenges the company is faced with at the moment?

Our biggest challenge has been producing to capacity and meeting demand.

But we have come a long way, nothing is ever going to be perfect and you will always have speed-bumps, even if you think you have the solution.

Q. You have been with the Coca-Cola Group for some time now – briefly share with us your journey.

I have been in Botswana since January after I was appointed the General Manager of the company.

I have been in the Coca-cola system for about 15 years now.

I am an Accountant by training.

I joined the South African operations back in 2004 in the finance department and have moved to various jobs within the department.

I have also spent five years in Tanzania as a Financial Director for our operations there.

I was keener to move into the general field and running an operation was my ultimate goal.

So, I moved from finance to sales and marketing for a couple of years at our group office with the focus being to go further into the international divisional of the business.

I became fortunate that in November last year I was told there is an opportunity to take up the general management of Botswana and it has been exciting journey.

Q. I am sure it is an all-encompassing, incredibly demanding job running a company of this magnitude! Away from the office, what do you get up to?

First and foremost I am a husband and a father of two young boys.

I try to balance work with quality time with the family and I also encourage my staff to do the same.

I am a big sports fan, played football and many other sports codes that you could play when growing up – actually, I do feel that is where my team-based approached leadership comes from!

Q. And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

We – me and my family – will be in Maun for the weekend.

We are a visiting one of the camps in the delta which will actually be our first time there.

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