The FINANCIAL -- The Coca-Cola Company on October 25 reported solid third quarter 2017 operating results and reaffirmed its full year financial outlook.
While reported net revenues continued to be impacted by a headwind from refranchising, the Company delivered broad-based organic revenue (non-GAAP) growth as well as profit growth in an environment of persistent economic uncertainty in many parts of the world.
The Company continued to make progress on its multi-faceted transformation, including a fast-tracked evolution to build an even more consumer-centric brand portfolio. Continued outperformance in zero-sugar sparkling soft drinks was led by recent launches, such as Coca-Cola Zero Sugar in the United States. Important expansions were also made in category clusters beyond sparkling soft drinks, such as the recent acquisition of the Topo Chico premium sparkling mineral water brand in the United States, according to the Coca-Cola Company.
The Company continued to advance toward its destination of a capital-light organization. Progress was made in its North America bottler refranchising plan during the quarter. The Company also completed a key ownership transition of bottling assets in Africa in early October, temporarily acquiring majority ownership of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa until it is refranchised.
"I am encouraged with our progress and results in the quarter," said James Quincey, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company. "Our performance reflects the strength of an organization that is focused on delivering against its financial commitments while also making substantial structural and cultural changes."
Revenues: Net revenues declined 15% to $9.1 billion, impacted by an 18% headwind from the ongoing refranchising of bottling territories. Organic revenues (non-GAAP) grew 4%, driven by price/mix growth of 3% and concentrate sales growth of 1%. Core business organic revenues (non-GAAP) also grew 4% with price/mix growth of 3%. The solid organic revenue (non-GAAP) performance was supported by growth in each of the operating segments.
Volume: Total unit case volume was even. Despite continued macroeconomic challenges in certain Latin American markets, emerging and developing markets saw improving trends, achieving slightly positive unit case volume growth. This was offset by the performance in developed markets, which was negatively impacted by weather and the cycling of strong results from the prior year.
Margin: Operating margin, which included items impacting comparability, grew 200 basis points. Comparable operating margin (non-GAAP) expanded 400 basis points, driven by divestitures of lower- margin bottling businesses through refranchising and continued operating expense management associated with the Company's ongoing productivity efforts.
Market Share: The Company gained value share in total nonalcoholic ready-to-drink ("NARTD") beverages. The value share growth outpaced volume share, reflecting the Company's continued shift in focus from volume growth to value growth. The Company gained or maintained value share in sparkling soft drinks, juices, sports drinks, and ready-to-drink ("RTD") tea.
Cash Flow: Year-to-date cash from operations was $5.9 billion, down 12%. This decrease was primarily driven by the ongoing refranchising of North America bottling territories. Year-to-date free cash flow (non- GAAP) was $4.7 billion, down 8%. This decrease was primarily driven by the ongoing refranchising of North America bottling territories, partially offset by lower capital expenditures.
Share Repurchases: Year-to-date purchases of stock for treasury were $3.1 billion. Year-to-date net share repurchases (non-GAAP) totaled $1.7 billion.
Taking a more innovative approach to sparkling soft drinks: The Company continues to find ways to reduce the amount of added sugar in many beverages around the world and remains on track to reformulate more than 500 products this year. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar continued to perform well, growing unit case volume high single digits during the quarter. The new recipe was successfully introduced in the United States midway through the quarter, doubling its unit case volume growth rate versus the prior quarter. By the first quarter of 2018, the Company plans to introduce this innovation in all key markets around the world.
Portfolio diversification beyond sparkling soft drinks: In early October, the Company acquired the Topo Chico premium sparkling mineral water brand in the United States. Topo Chico is a fast-growing brand in parts of the United States, especially Texas. Through the Venturing & Emerging Brands unit, the Company plans to expand U.S. distribution while preserving the heritage of the brand. In the U.S. RTD coffee category, the Company launched a line of Dunkin' Donuts branded iced coffee beverages earlier this year, and performance is exceeding expectations. McDonald's also announced a new RTD frappé coffee line in partnership with the Company, which is expected to be available in the United States early next year. In Europe, innocent juices and smoothies continued to expand across the continent. The brand, which is the #1 chilled juice brand in Western Europe, can be found in 15 markets across Europe and has grown net revenues double digits year-to-date.
Reshaping the global bottling network: With the progress made since the last quarter, nearly 80% of Coca-Cola Refreshments' ("CCR") U.S. volume has now been transitioned to new ownership. The Company expects to complete the refranchising of CCR in the United States within the coming weeks. In Africa, a key transition of bottling assets was completed in early October, which resulted in the Company obtaining a majority interest in Coca-Cola Beverages Africa ("CCBA"). The Company will temporarily hold this controlling interest until CCBA is refranchised, which is expected to be completed in 2018. The Company will account for CCBA as a discontinued operation.
Shared value as a growth driver: The Coca-Cola system in India and its fruit industry partners recently announced plans for a "fruit circular economy" initiative. The planned economic contribution of $1.7 billion to India's agriculture ecosystem over the next five years is expected to benefit approximately 200,000 Indian fruit farmers. This initiative includes adding Indian fruit juices to existing sparkling brands, launching new juice drinks based on Indian fruit flavors, and exploring new beverage categories. The program supported the launch of Minute Maid Pulpy Mosambi, which helped the Minute Maid Pulpy brand grow triple digits in India during the quarter.
Leadership transition: Earlier this week, the Company announced that J. Alexander "Sandy" Douglas Jr. will retire as President of Coca-Cola North America ("CCNA"). He will be succeeded by James L. "Jim" Dinkins, who currently serves as President of the Minute Maid business unit and Chief Retail Sales Officer for CCNA. Jim begins his new duties Jan. 1, 2018, and Sandy will retire from the Company March 1, 2018. The Company thanks Sandy for his leadership and dedicated service to the global Coca-Cola system over the past 30 years.