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Coke to slash costs as soda sales remain flat

FILE - In this March 3, 2010 file photo, a Costco customer pours a Diet Coke drink at Costco in Mountain View, Calif. The fixation on calorie counts that defined dieting for so long is giving way to other considerations, like the promise of more fiber or natural ingredients. The shift is chipping away at the popularity of products like Diet Coke, Lean Cuisine, Special K and Yoplait Light, which became dieting staples primarily by virtue of being calorie-stripped alternatives to people’s favorite foods. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
Sales for Coca Cola and Diet Coke are in decline in the North America and abroad as consumers elect for less sugary beverages and products that don't contain artificial sweeteners. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file

NEW YORK – Coca-Cola said it plans to slash costs by $3 billion a year after the world’s biggest beverage maker reported disappointing sales on flat soda volume.

The Atlanta-based company said it will reach its cost-cutting goal by 2019 through a variety of measures, such as restructuring its global supply chain. It did not specify how many jobs would be lost as a result, but said most changes will be communicated by early next year.

The maker of drinks including Powerade, Sprite and Diet Coke said the savings will help fund the marketing that’s needed to drive up sales.

As sales of their drinks have slowed, Coca-Cola and rival PepsiCo have both sought to improve their financial performance by trimming costs. In the U.S., they’re also trying to boost sales by pushing “mini-cans” positioned as a way to control portions.

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For the quarter ended Sept. 26, Coca-Cola said global beverage volume rose 1 per cent, as an increase in non-carbonated drinks lifted results. In its flagship North American market, the company said soda and non-carbonated drinks each fell by 1 per cent.

Earlier this month, PepsiCo said soda volume for the region fell 1.5 per cent for the quarter, while non-carbonated drinks rose slightly.

Although Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sell a variety of other drinks, both are trying to figure out how to turnaround their flagship soda businesses. Americans have been cutting back on soft drinks over the past decade, in part because of concerns about sugar. More recently, executives have blamed concerns about the artificial sweeteners for even steeper declines in diet sodas.

In the latest quarter, Coca-Cola said its focus on smaller sizes helped lift revenue for North America, even though volume declined.

Coca-Cola is also increasingly looking elsewhere for growth, and has acquired stakes in single-serve coffee maker Keurig Green Mountain and energy drink maker Monster Beverage.

Coca-Cola said profit nevertheless fell 14 per cent, dragged down by unfavourable currency exchange rates. The company said it expects this year’s earnings per share to miss its long-term target of high-single-digit growth. It also lowered the low end of its long-term revenue target, and its stock tumbled more than 6 per cent.

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Coca-Cola Co. said it earned $2.11 billion, or 48 cents per share. Adjusted for one-time items, it earned 53 cents per share, topping the 52 cents per share analysts expected, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue was $11.98 billion, which missed Street forecasts for $12.14 billion.

Coca-Cola’s shares fell $2.43, or 5.6 per cent, to $40.86.

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