Can Coca-Cola's Compete With Silicon Valley's Food Movement?

Little Eau Claire Farm. Image source: B Garrett/Flickr.

Although soda taxes have largely been unsuccessful in gaining traction with city, state, and federal governments across the globe, soda appears to be taxing future growth for Coca-Cola . Consumers in Western markets are becoming increasingly health conscious with purchasing decisions. That has allowed healthier, often premium or specialty products, to flourish while dampening the consumption of those with perceived health disadvantages, such as sugary, carbonated beverages.

To capitalize on the momentum, Coca-Cola will begin selling premium milk -- yes, milk-- nationwide in 2015. In addition to being lactose free, Fairlife Milk products contain 50% more protein and calcium, and 50% less sugar than regular milk. For those ultra-processed benefits, consumers will need to pay twice as much.

While you may question the company's decision to break into the milk scene, Coca-Cola's extensive market research has made it uber bullish on the opportunity. Sandy Douglas, President of Coca-Cola North America, predicted that Fairlife Milk "will rain money."That would be great news for shareholders; but, better yet, it could be the beginning a broader portfolio of premium products focused on health-and-wellness products. And it's exactly why investors should know about the food movement -- fueled by Silicon Valley -- sweeping the nation.

The case for premium diversificationCoca-Cola shareholders have begun to wonder where the company's future growth will come from. While emerging markets were once considered slam dunks for growth, that's no longer the case. In fact, Europe was the only operating segment to increase revenue during the first nine months of 2014 compared to the same period of 2013.

Periods of comparison are first nine months of 2013 and 2014. Corporate and bottling segments excluded. Source: SEC filings.

Management is right to begin rethinking its strategy, which becomes even more apparent when evaluating the sources contributing to Coca-Cola's bottom line. As the table below demonstrates, North America's weakening performance is beginning to reshuffle Coca-Cola's globally balanced earnings machine.

Periods of comparison are first nine months of 2013 and 2014. Corporate and bottling segments excluded. Source: SEC filings.

Despite realizing more than 54% of its total revenue is from North America thus far in 2014, Coca-Cola has generated less than 18% of its total income before taxes there. This downward trend and reshuffling of earnings streams is the driving force behind the company's declining EPS, which is the metric most investors are watching.

*For nine month period ended September 30, 2014. Data from 2011-2013 is for the full-year period. Source: SEC filings.

According to Yahoo! Finance, the average of 20 analyst estimates calls for Coca-Cola to register EPS of $0.44 in the fourth quarter of 2014. That would bring full-year EPS to $1.86 -- the lowest since 2011. Of course, lackluster (or stagnant) growth does not mean the company is in danger of becoming unprofitable -- it generated $8 billion in cash through the first nine months of 2014 -- but it does demonstrate the need to diversify into premium products.

Startup the food movementThe food movement can be described as the heightened national consciousness among consumers concerning what foods they purchase, and where the foods come from -- with a focus on health and wellness. Silicon Valley has helped fuel the growth of a new wave of start-ups manufacturing innovative food and beverage products targeted at health-aware consumers, and established brands are beginning to take notice and offer products of their own.

As noted by Jonathan Shieber of TechCrunch, food start-ups raised nearly $350 million from the second quarter of 2013 to the midway point this year. Companies range from school-lunch innovator Revolution Foods to plant-based food company Hampton Creek from plant-based protein-powder manufacturer Aloha to vegan dairy-milk start-up Muufri.

Image source: TechCrunch.

Perhaps no company epitomizes the food movement as well as Hampton Creek, creator of the Just Mayo brand, which announced the closing of a $90 million financing round Thursday. Now having raised $113 million in 2014, the company is prepared to bring healthy, affordable, and sustainable food to the masses. So far so good: Just Mayo products are sold on store shelves of Target, Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart, DollarTree, and many others. CEO Josh Tetrick summarized the company's mission -- and the opportunity of the food movement -- in plain terms:

While several other VC-backed food startups are also looking to make healthier foods more affordable, others are keen to offer premium products. After all, consumers aren't shy about ponying up for premium products considered to be healthier or more nutritious -- just ask Whole Foods Market. Although selling for twice the amount of current milk brands puts Fairlife on the premium end of the spectrum, the trend remains Coca-Cola's friend.

How can Coca-Cola gain from the food movement?Investors and consumers may not realize it, but Coca-Cola is one of the few companies that control a sizable chunk of the global food system. As this spectacular 2012 infographic from the Convergence Alimentaire food blog demonstrates, most of what we eat can be traced to singular sources.

Image source: Convergence Alimentaire.

The infographic above demonstrates that Coca-Cola has a leading global distribution network of physical infrastructure and brands. Assuming Fairlife establishes itself in the market and "rains money" as executives confidently expect, investors can anticipate the arrival of additional premium products in the company's portfolio, spawned from in-house research and development or acquisitions of innovative start-ups.

What does it mean for investors?Declining profits, spurred by declining consumption, and a reshuffling of Coca-Cola's global earnings machine demonstrate the need for diversification into premium products.The good news is that the company has plenty of leverage and capital to throw at any potential opportunity, but premium foods and beverages that appeal to health-conscious consumers appear to be an optimal fit.

While it will take some time for Fairlife to gain market traction and build brand recognition after being introduced in early 2015, the company's confidence may hint at the potential for a growing health-and-wellness portfolio. Analysts may be panicking today, but Coca-Cola's next phase of growth could already be under way (with a little help from a lot of venture capital from Silicon Valley).

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John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fools board of directors. Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out hispersonal portfolio,CAPS page,previous writingfor The Motley Fool, and follow him on Twitter to keep up with developments in the synthetic biology field.The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market and has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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