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Yoo-hoo, Investor Relations

George L Smyth

We spend a lot of time looking at companies and trying to determine their direction, but we don't spend much time asking the companies themselves. As these companies are under consideration the Fool's Drip Portfolio, I felt that hearing from the companies would offer additional information.

The question I wished to ask to each was simple and straightforward: "What three things do you feel will give your company the greatest value to your shareholders over the next decade?" I thought that it would be useful to compare the companies' answers. This task proved to be much easier said than done.

As the information was not on their websites, I called each company to obtain the e-mail addresses of their investor relations departments. On the evening of March 6, 2000, I used e-mail to identify myself, explain that I wished to use their response in an article, and ask the question.

Receiving an answer from none of them, I resent the e-mail nine days later. A representative from Wrigley told me that he was busy but would respond within the next couple of days. Six days after this I obtained a response from Mark Preisinger of Coke, apologizing for the delay and giving me his answer. I sent a follow-up question but haven't received a response.

Having received nothing from the other two companies, I wrote Wrigley on March 30 and reminded them that they had promised to answer my question. I also sent the e-mail to Pepsi for a third time. Two weeks into April I still have not heard from them.

For those considering these companies for a Drip, this is not encouraging. At a time when the prices for all three companies are lagging, it would seem that they would be taking measures to make the company more appealing to their shareholders.

As mentioned, I do have Mr. Preisinger's response, and offer it for your consideration:

  1. Growth. Coke's growth opportunities are enormous. The worldwide average per capita consumption is only 66, which translates into only slightly more than one of our products every week. Out of 6 billion people in the world, we are currently receiving only 10% of our volume from 4 billion of these potential consumers. In the most populous areas of the world, Asia and the Middle East, consumers drink only one of our products every two weeks, on average.
  2. Brands. Coke has the most recognized brand in the world, and in addition has over 232 brands on our portfolio. Our products include carbonated soft drinks, coffees, teas, sports drinks waters, etc. We are looking to aggressively compete in the ready-to-drink nonalcoholic beverage industry, which is the fastest-growing segment of the commercial beverage industry.
  3. Unparalleled infrastructure. We serve 1 billion servings of Coca-Cola products a day to consumers through over 16 million customers worldwide.

You should determine if the answer clarifies your opinion of the long-term possibilities of Coke. If someone can get a response from the other two companies, I would certainly be interested.

My follow-up question to Coke was "What kind of growth does Coke see in China over the next decade? Coke is the number one soft drink there, only yields seven servings per capita, and appears to have the infrastructure in place for enormous growth. However, I am wondering what Coke reasonably expects from the world's largest economy over the next decade." I wish I had received a response, as China's growth potential was one of the original reasons I started a Drip with the company.

Fortunately, there is one way I know to get a direct and immediate response to the follow-up question -- ask the CEO. I will have an opportunity to do this tomorrow, as I make my annual trek to Wilmington, Delaware to attend the shareholders meeting. Perhaps I can also find out why their website and annual report offers no e-mail addresses.