Coca-Cola’s top marketer: we'll ‘never say never’ to marijuana-infused drinks

Crespo, a 28-year company veteran, was appointed as Coca-Cola’s first chief growth officer in 2017

Coca-Cola’s top global marketer Francisco Crespo has said the brand is taking a “never say never” view on producing beverages infused with cannabidiol (CBD). However, he shut down the idea that marijuana-infused Coke or Sprite would be hitting shelves any time soon.

“The answer is no,” he said in response to a question posed by The Drum during a talk at Advertising Week New York.

“While CBD is not compliant with the law or socially acceptable, we don’t believe it’s what society is about,” he added.

However, the chief growth officer conceded that “one day” those two things might change, explaining how his boss, Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincy, takes a “never say never” approach to running the business.

Crespo added: “It’s not the time [for us to experiment with CBD], if the world changes, we’ll see.”

CBD, the non-psychoactive component of marijuana, is drawing increasing interest from consumers as a health and wellness supplement; with reported therapeutic benefits including temporary relief from the side effects of cancer, arthritis, migraines and more.

In the US alone, the CBD market is expected to hit $20bn by 2024, as products containing the hemp-extract become more readily available across industries like cosmetics, food and drink, pharmaceuticals and even pet care.

In many parts of the US, however, CBD still exists in a legal gray zone. In most states it’s legal to purchase CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC (the chemical component in cannabis that causes a high). Although, the popularity of the hemp-extract combined with a seismic shift in perceptions and legislation around cannabis is forcing beverage makers to consider how to appeal to people who are ready to consume the drug in a variety of formats beyond smoking.

According to Zenith Global, the US CBD-infused drinks market will hit $1.4bn by 2023, making it one of the fastest-growing segments in the overall industry and one that soda brands can’t afford to ignore.

Crespo’s comments reaffirm a statement made by Coca-Cola in October last year after rumours swirled that it was in talks with Canadian provider Aurora Cannabis. Although Coke had previously acknowledged it was “closely watching” growth in the space, it said it had “no interest in marijuana or cannabis”.

Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time," the brand said at the time.

Coke rival Pepsi has also expressed interest in the nascent market, with its chief financial officer Hugh Johnston admitting the business would “look at it critically” in the long-term.

Crespo, a 28-year company veteran, was appointed as Coca-Cola’s first chief growth officer in 2017 when the business got rid of the traditional chief marketing officer role.

He said the updated role ensures that brand building goes “way beyond advertising”.

“You can call it a chief marketing officer with a capital ‘m’ if that makes you happier, or you can call it chief growth officer. It’s basically there to remind me that if we don’t grow, it’s my fault,” he said.

Under his watch, the company has been heavily investing in marketing around its diet and sugar-free products to appeal to a young, health-conscious audience. In 2018 its organic revenues grew 5% to $8.2bn.

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