DUBAI – Partnership is paramount to success in the global restaurant industry – a business teeming with promise – Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent told an international group of foodservice operators earlier this month at the inaugural Global Restaurant Leadership Conference.

The Coca-Cola Company was a founding sponsor of the summit, which welcomed more than 1,000 restaurant operators from 60 countries for three days of networking, workshops and knowledge sharing.

Here are key takeaways and quotes from Kent’s keynote remarks:

The Power of Partnerships

“In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, the power of partnerships is more important than ever,” Kent said.  The Coca-Cola Company was built on a foundation of partnerships, he added, citing ongoing collaboration with the “Golden Triangle” of business, government and civil society, as well as consumers, shareowners, stakeholders and retail and restaurant customers who sell Coca-Colaproducts in 24 million outlets worldwide.

“Without partners like you working with us, pulling in the same direction, we could not hope to have the kind of business we have today,” Kent said.

Partnerships fuel the company’s robust innovation pipeline, which includes everything from beverages and ingredients, to packaging and equipment, to advertising and customer service. Coke partners with other companies or organizations on “beyond the core” innovations that leverage new business models, technologies or capabilities, and invests in, acquires or co-develops new brands to fill evolving consumer needs, including AdeS, Suja and fairlife.

“These and other innovations are helping us keep consumers at the heart of what we do,” Kent said.

Macro Trends

Kent highlighted several trends shaping the global restaurant business, starting with urbanization. “Growing by leaps and bounds, cities today are potent drivers of civilization and disruption,” he explained. “This morning, one in eight people woke up in a city of more than 10 million people. Now, there are 29 such mega-cities. In 15 years, there will be 41.”

Technology is hurtling forward at a blistering pace, and adoption curves continue to shrink. “What once took years can take weeks,” Kent said. “In terms of disrupters, we must keep an eye on the mobile web, the automation of knowledge-work and the Internet of things.” One trillion devices are projected to be web-connected by 2025, he added, and they will touch every aspect of business and commerce.

Finally, the rising influence of the Millennial generation cannot be underestimated. In the U.S., Millennials became the largest age cohort and represent an even higher percentage of the population in some other countries. Brands must be responsive and authentic while engaging with these hyper-connected consumers, who want businesses to have a positive impact in the world.


Opportunities Ahead

These trends and others – including an expanding middle class, growth in global population and GDP – combine to create a promising outlook for the restaurant business, Kent said. On-the-go lifestyles, more disposable income, and increased interest in food choices also work in the industry’s favor.

“Will there be ups and downs? Of course,” he said. “But, over time, the most important trend lines all point to growth. Even seasons of challenge present opportunities for you to innovate and reinvent, and set the stage for greater success down the line.”

He continued, “In moments like this, with no shortage of soft spots in the global economy, businesses like yours must focus on the growth levers in your hands.”

These include giving guests compelling reasons to visit restaurants more often or spend more per visit by enhancing the dining experience and creating connections. “You’re improving your facilities, your menus, your ingredients and much more—all with an eye toward better meeting the needs of consumers,” Kent said, adding that Coca-Cola is eager to help its restaurant customers succeed and grow in every market condition.

Nonalcoholic beverages remain among the most profitable items on restaurant menus, he noted, and the company can help boost revenue, traffic and incidence with equipment such as the popular Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain dispenser. Coke also continues to help restaurants meet shifting consumer tastes with craft sodas, not-from-concentrate juices and other premium categories of still beverages with brands like smartwater, Simply, Odwalla, Suja and Core Power.

Wrapping up, Kent said the company and its bottling partners are helping restaurant customers strengthen their everyday operations. “Ultimately, we’re committed to being your best partner and helping you make more money by enhancing the guest experience and making it more unique, special and differentiated,” Kent concluded.

“When you turn the lights on, you’re inviting the world in for a meal… one outlet and one neighborhood at a time. That’s a noble and enriching business, and we feel very privileged to be part of it.”