Coke sales rebound as vaccinations roll out and venues open

FILE - In this Monday, April 5, 2021 file photo, cases of Coca-Cola are displayed in a supermarket, in New York. Coca-Cola Co. says its sales are steadily improving as vaccination rates increase and venues like stadiums, restaurants and theaters reopen around the world.  The company said its sales rose 5% in the January-March period this year, helped by strong growth in China and India. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Monday, April 5, 2021 file photo, cases of Coca-Cola are displayed in a supermarket, in New York. Coca-Cola Co. says its sales are steadily improving as vaccination rates increase and venues like stadiums, restaurants and theaters reopen around the world. The company said its sales rose 5% in the January-March period this year, helped by strong growth in China and India. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Sales are steadily improving at Coca-Cola Co. as vaccinations allow for the opening of restaurants and offices in many regions globally.

Coke historically had booked half its sales from restaurants, stadiums and other public places. The pandemic broadsided the company.

As of March, case volumes had returned to 2019 levels, the beverage giant said. First-quarter volume growth was particularly strong in China, which was locked down last year.

Coke Chairman and CEO James Quincey said reopenings are happening in three phases as vaccine rates increase. First, he said, people start going out to restaurants in the evenings. That business has returned in markets like China and Australia and began bouncing back in the U.S. last month, Quincey said.

Next, offices reopen and lunchtime business picks up. That has started in China, but not yet in the U.S., he said. Finally, stadiums, theaters and other big venues will reopen, but that's not yet happening on a large scale in any markets, he said.

People are regaining some mobility as the vaccine push in the U.S. goes into overdrive. Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 shot, the government announced Sunday. Quincey said the reopening phases could happen more rapidly in the U.S. than in other less developed markets.

Quincey said the company remains on track to deliver 2021 earnings that match or exceed 2019. But he cautioned that sales could still slip backward. Global coronavirus cases recently hit a new peak, he said, and that could cause some markets to shut down again.

“The principal uncertainty remains the risk of additional lockdowns,” Quincey said during a conference call with analysts Monday. “There’s no guarantee there won’t be some extra degree of lockdowns in May or October or December that puts pressure back on the business.”