Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 18 – The Supermarket Sourcer (Jo MCFARLAND, Sainsbury's/Argos)
Jo McFarland is the one in charge of sourcing thousands of items – from around 500 factories in China – for two of the most famous high-street retail names in the United Kingdom, Sainsbury's and Argos.
OF: What had you planned that you would sell, but in the end because of COVID did not sell?
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.
I like today's episode because it's a subject matter that in the wrong hands could be a little bit mundane. We're talking about the subject of sourcing goods from factories. But as with many other subjects, you can transplant it into the context of China - and get someone with a lovely attitude, like my guest today, Jo McFarland - and that subject totally comes to life.
As with every episode, if you're not a native English speaker and you're finding it hard to follow the conversation, you can head to https://mosaicofchina.com to read the full transcript of the show, or head to YouTube where you can follow the subtitles in real time.
OF: Welcome Jo, nice to meet you.
JM: Thank you very much, Oscar. Thank you very much for having me here today.
OF: I don't know why I said "meet you" because I know you very well. We actually first met in Hong Kong when we were sitting in the hairdresser of Elaine Swanson.
JM: I was going to say. You were having a rinse.
OF: I was having a rinse; you were sitting there sipping something sparkling.
OF: Definitely water. And yeah, we haven't been back to Hong Kong, we haven't seen Elaine, so a big shout out to Elaine for bringing us together in the first place.
OF: And I love your accent. People would already have noticed that you have a specific accent. So what is that?
JM: Well actually, for those of you who watch British TV, and have seen 'Derry Girls', I'm actually a Derry girl. I left Northern Ireland an extremely long time ago, but I clearly haven't managed to shake off my Derry accent, despite the fact that I've lived all over England, Scotland for a really long time, and I've lived in Asia for about seven years. So you can take the girl out of Derry, but…
OF: Certainly, you cannot take that accent out. But neither would I want you to, that would be a shame. And this is a funny thing, because Northern Ireland is part of the UK. But you can't really call yourself 'British' because 'Great Britain' is the island that is across the water from Northern Ireland. So what do you call yourself? Do you call yourself 'Irish'?
JM: Oh, see, you're opening a whole can of worms here, if we go into Irish politics. To be honest with you, I have a British passport, but I also have an Irish passport. So I guess in today's terminology, I would say I identify as both.
OF: Well, before we get any further, what I would ask you immediately is, what is the object that you have brought that in some way describes your life in China? Is it in the other room? Oh, what is that?
JM: Oscar, I'm surprised that you can't recognise this immediately. It is clearly a bottle of red wine. Now the thing that's really interesting about this bottle of wine, is that it is Chinese red wine. And it's made in a vineyard here. And the President of this particular wine company is actually a woman. And the reason why this represents China to me, is that it says to me how exciting a place that China is. Because here, they can truly make anything happen. So, you know, when you think of red wine, you think of France and Italy, maybe some new world red wine, but China doesn't automatically spring to mind, right? Whereas this is actually fantastic wine. And also the way that women have very senior roles in China. Now, I first came out here probably 20-ish years ago. And it was, of course, very male dominated. But not any more. And that is another example of the way China can adapt and change, and why it makes it such an exciting place to be.
OF: Nice. And I hope that you also enjoy drinking that one too.
OF: Well, the jumping-off point from what you said in that intro is, that you have had an association with China now for about 20 years. So what is that background?
JM: So I work for a really large retailer in the UK, very famous: Sainsbury's/Argos. So Sainsbury's, of course, one the big four supermarkets; and Argos, you know has the catalogue of dreams. And I've worked with the business… I've had my anniversary this week, actually. Combined Argos and Sainsbury's, 20 years this year. So my role has always been about bringing great product directly from factories into the UK, and 80% of the UK shop at Argos. So it's a British institution. And the reason why Argos became so famous back in the day, is that it made luxury product - or perceived luxury product - accessible to everyone. And Argos went direct to factory and sourced them in a way that made them affordable for everyone.
OF: How would you describe the way that you interface with the customer?
JM: Yeah, it's an extremely unique model that doesn't translate anywhere else in the world. So basically, it had a catalogue where you could choose which product you wanted at home. And then you'd go into the store, write down the catalogue number of the product you wanted, and then a nice chap would go to the warehouse at the back and bring out your product. So all the selection was done from a catalogue, as opposed to off the shelf.
OF: Let me then ask you about Sainsbury's, because this came later on in the picture, right? Explain what happened with Sainsbury's?
JM: Yeah, so Sainsbury's bought Argos four years ago. So we're Sainsbury's/Argos now. It was quite a big thing to happen in the UK, because it was two retail giants that basically came together. So it's a bit of a one-stop shop for consumers that makes us unique in the UK market.
OF: Well there you go, that is your intro. To anyone who did not know retail in the UK, you need know nothing more: Sainsbury's is the supermarket, and Argos is more general goods, everything.
JM: Yeah, we call it 'general merchandise' because it's basically everything.
OF: Maybe people are scratching their heads now about why we're talking about retail in the UK. But perhaps they have worked out what your role is here in China. So what is it that you do?
JM: So here, I run the Shanghai Sainsbury's/Argos sourcing office. So we have nearly 100 colleagues up here, all local, and they work with factories right across China, where we develop our own brand product, and then we facilitate bringing it from the factory into the UK. So we're responsible for finding fabulous factories. And we have about 500 factories that we use here, because we cover such a vast range of product. And then we have to facilitate the supply chain to get it from the factory into the UK on time, every time. Sounds simple, but yeah, there's quite a lot of challenge in there.
OF: Well, this is why I was excited to have you interviewed, because this is what China has been known for, over the last 20 years. The fact that it has been a manufacturing hub and the integral part of the supply chain of so many retailers around the world. What actually do you source within the group?
JM: All sorts. See, I've got three different areas and it's very wide. So, 'Electrical': washing machines, tumble dryers, through to the charger for your mobile. But also tablets, mobile phones, radios, all that kind of stuff. Then I've got another team who do 'Garden Power': very glamorous, so that's your lawnmowers, strimmers; Leisure, so like trampolines, outdoor toys, camping, and sports. And then I also have another team which does product more for the Sainsbury's channel, things like Events: so like Christmas, Hallowe'en, Valentine's Day, so you know, like cards, wrap, gifts, all of that type of product. So I have a very wide remit, and very different factories within that.
OF: Yeah, there's so many different things. Can you actually get economies of scale?
JM: Well, as I said at the start, 80% of the UK population shop at Argos, and Sainsbury's has 26 million shoppers a week. So we have huge volume. So we ship a vast number of containers from an individual factory. So we are a major exporter out of China.
OF: So if I want to buy a trampoline, I'll go through you.
JM: Yes. But there aren't very many factories in China that do trampolines.
OF: I mean, trampolines, it's not that common, come on.
JM: We sell thousands and thousands.
JM: Honestly, that was a hot product this year. We could not ship enough trampolines.
OF: Well, this is a good question. Because when you suddenly change your shopping habits because you're stuck at home, that has a direct impact on people like you, right?
JM: Well, because we have our nice shiny forecasts that we do every year, and COVID just threw that out the window. So we started off, and the factories were closed because of course, China kind of shut itself down to try and cope with the virus. So then we were kind of screaming at factories to say "How are we going to get our product out?" And then very quickly, the virus hit the UK and then we had to close stand-alone stores. So then we thought "Oh! We're not going to sell anything!" So then we were basically trying to turn it off in factories. But actually what happened was, people were stuck at home in lockdown, and they went crazy buying everything. For certain products, we had monumental demand. So like sports, for example. So things like small weights, yoga mats, treadmills, you know our demand for that is up 100% year-on-year.
OF: Totally, I can just imagine that. And what about the flip side? Like, what had you planned that you would sell, but in the end because of COVID did not sell?
JM: Luggage. And portable DVD. Because portable DVD is for the kids to watch on long car journeys. So I'm afraid it was a little bit of a disaster.
OF: Oh, I love that. I should have known, but yeah, that is brilliant. And so let's go back then to normal times. So when things are running smoothly, it is an amazingly well-oiled machine. To just think about how somebody in the UK going into a store, they can pick up this item, and they wouldn't have a clue that it has somehow gone through the supply chain, and it's ended up in their very hands, right? That's the thing that still amazes me, which is just an everyday thing, of course, about modern trade. But what happens when it goes wrong, like what things can go wrong?
JM: Oh, it can be all sorts of things. So even though we've got very strict inspection processes - in the factory; before it's shipped; when it arrives in the UK - sometimes we do get technical problems with product. And that's kind of the worst thing that happens. So a customer buys a product, takes it home, and it doesn't work. Or they find something that potentially could be a safety hazard. And you have to withdraw it from sale, and then go back around to the factory and try and figure out what's gone wrong. And sometimes, you know, factories can do really innocent things. So like, for example, we had a case, it was on a nursery product - which is also one of my products - where they had changed a small component part of the product, because they had used recycled plastic. So you'd think "What's wrong with that?" But the percentage of recycled plastic they'd used was too much, so it made the product weaker. Now, the chances of it doing anybody any real damage are almost negligible, but as a very responsible retailer, we will not take any chances. So that's the sort of thing that goes wrong. But you know, we bring in thousands and thousands of products every year, and the amount that goes wrong is really, really small.
OF: Of course, I mean that's why I'm focusing in on those, because they must be the exception that proves the rule, right?
JM: Yeah. And we're pretty good at sharing our information with other retailers. So like, you know, if we know that there's other high street retailers that use the same factory as us - or other brands in the UK - we will tell them "We found a problem with our product" so that they can be alert as well, particularly if it's a product that we think could be hazardous to the consumer.
OF: Well, that makes me ask you then, is there a community of people who are sourcing - let's say in China, it being one of the biggest sourcing hubs in the world - or is there something of a more cut-throat attitude, where you're competing for the best supplies?
JM: There's a lot of really big, really good factories here. And we all tend to use the same factories. So there'll be a lot of crossover between all of us, which is kind of to be expected. I do know a few people up here, but we don't really have a community. Unless they do, and I've just not been invited to it. So if anyone's listening…
OF: Well then, you said then that there are certain factories you use. So where are, then, the factories that people usually use? Are they spread around, in terms of what kind of product you want?
JM: Yes. That's a really good question actually, Oscar. So it depends on the product. So if you want to buy something very technical - like a tablet, or a laptop - South China. Other big stuff like white goods - so major domestic appliances, your washing machines, tumble dryers cooking - is all migrating up to the north of China. There's a lot of factories around 宁波 [Níngbō], 南京 [Nánjīng], 苏州 [Sūzhōu], there's loads of factories around there that make all kinds of different things. But it's becoming more and more expensive. And China is trying to move some of that manufacturing further into China, where it's cheaper. So everything's on the east at the moment, because it's really near ports, so it's easy to ship. But they're trying to move it further into China. And another reason is that China is trying to sort out its pollution. So it's trying to keep a lot of the production away from big cities. So it doesn't really want any manufacturing around Beijing, for example. So it's a very sophisticated, clever plan. And you can see that China's gone from just making stuff, to now being quite sophisticated in which parts of China they want to make what. And it's quite vertically integrated. So they've got most of their raw materials here, as well as the production, as well as the supply chain. So if you want to order a product from China, they can make it and ship it within about 60 days. Some of them will do it within 45 days. But you go to Southeast Asia or the U.S. - the U.S. used to be the biggest manufacturing hub in the world, it's now number two - you're looking at 120 days there. So no one can truly compete with China as it stands at the moment. Except for textiles. So like clothing manufacturing tends to be extremely labour intensive. And labour is becoming expensive here. So India and Bangladesh are the best places to go for apparel, and that's because China's not that interested in it.
OF: And then you mentioned the push away from the coast and more inland, like do you see it happening already?
OF: And when we say 'the West,' so we're talking about cities near 成都 [Chéngdū], like whereabouts..?
JM: Yeah, like 重庆 [Chóngqìng], yeah, that sort of direction, yes. Because you've still got to get the product shipped. So it's still got to get to a port.
OF: This is interesting, because it also ties in then with what they're trying to do with the Belt and Road Initiative, which is trying to have more transportation links overland to the west.
JM: That's right, yes.
OF: Well, we've talked about your job, but we haven't talked much about you. So what was it that drew you to this line of work? I don't believe that somebody in Northern Ireland said "Mummy, I want to be a sourcing director."
JM: I didn't know it existed. Well when I was 16 - in Derry obviously - I got a job in Top Shop. I thought it was the best job ever. High fashion for teenagers, I guess is the way that I would describe it, but anyway as a 16-year-old it was quite a cool place to work. And I loved the buzz of retail, and I loved the buzz of working in a shop. So anyway, I ended up doing a business degree. So my first job was a brand manager for electric blankets - very glamorous - and the factory was at an old mill. And that was my sort of first job in sourcing, if you like. From there I progressed into buying. So it was Makro, which is a kind of cash-and-carry, very similar concept to Costco. And then from there, I ended up going to Argos.
OF: Thank you so much, Jo.
OF: Well, let's move on to Part 2.
OF: Are you ready, Jo?
JM: Yes, I'm ready. I still haven't drunk any of that red wine. I'm still ready.
OF: It's sitting here in front of us. It's very tempting, especially because it's Friday afternoon right now.
OF: Question 1. What is your favourite China-related fact?
JM: 风水 [Fēngshuǐ]. So we have to make sure that we get that right in the office. So everything's got to be facing south, for the best position. And it will keep evil away. And the other thing is, when we joined together Argos and Sainsbury's, we had a new office. And whenever we have a new office, you have to have the Dragon Dance. So the Dragon Dance will keep the evil spirits away from the office, and make us rich. Which has not worked out too badly so far. So it's very important.
OF: You see, you're like me, you've lived in Hong Kong as well, right?
JM: Yeah, yeah, we had the same thing with the Dragon Dance in Hong Kong as well.
OF: Yeah because I always found Hong Kong - in fact in general, southern China - seems to be more into 风水 [fēngshuǐ] than Shanghai and northern China, wouldn't you say? Or you would say differently?
JM: No, I know a fair few local friends who've moved apartments and they get the 风水 [fēngshuǐ] guy around to check it out before they move in.
OF: There you go. Question 2, do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?
JM: Well, there's a word - you will know this, you will absolutely know this word - 帅哥 [shuàigē]. So it basically means 'handsome man'. So, when I first learnt Chinese and they told me that, I thought "Ooh, handsome man". And 美女 [měinǚ] means, like, 'pretty lady'. But then I realised, it's used to say like "Hello, mate". So like, if you want to call a waiter in the restaurant or anything, you'd go "帅哥 [shuàigē]."
JM: And I kind of like that. It's a nice word. And it's friendly. And it's fun. And when I say it everyone laughs. Maybe it's just because I'm saying it wrong.
OF: I think it's '帅哥 [shuàigē].'
JM: 帅哥 [Shuàigē], yeah.
OF: But yeah, because when you translate it, you're saying "Oi handsome! Come here!" "Oi pretty lady!" Ah, simple yet effective. What is your favourite destination within China?
JM: Well, see there's so many. However, one of the advantages of the job as well, is that we do go to all parts of China.
JM: So I used to look after garden furniture. And there is a garden furniture factory that's in an area called 临海 [Línhǎi]. Have you ever been there?
OF: Never heard of it.
JM: Absolutely stunning. And it's like beautiful countryside, and in the middle of it is a furniture factory.
OF: Oh god.
JM: But it's one of my favourite factories to go to, because it's in such a beautiful location.
OF: That is nice. And are there any places that you have to go to as a sourcer, where you're like "Oh god, do I have to go back there?"
JM: Do you know, I quite enjoy going to all those places, because they've all got different Chinese character. I mean, in Shanghai everything is so shiny and beautiful and fabulous. But some of the places we go, it's much more gritty. And I actually really like that, because it does remind you where you are.
JM: Keep it real, Oscar.
OF: You've got to keep it real. If you left China, what would you miss the most? What would you miss the least?
JM: Well, I know this is gonna be a really obvious answer, but I would absolutely miss the people the most. So I mean, in the office, it's like, I am the office foreigner. And I would miss the colleagues in the office because, you know - they tell me all the time - I'm their Chinese family. You know, we've been on a journey. And then there's other ladies, like down in the noodle bar that I go to, that don't speak any English - and my Chinese is very limited - and somehow we can communicate, and they're very, very sweet to me. And there's so many people from all walks of life around Shanghai, that I see in my daily life that are incredibly kind to me. That's what I would miss the most if I left China. Because this is my second time in China. And when I left the first time, that is what I missed. But the thing that I would miss the least is the sniffing.
Like that, right?
OF: Mmm hmm.
JM: Honestly, it's like grating. It's like, I can't bear it. I have to put on headphones or get up and walk away. I don't know how it doesn't drive them crazy. Because I find it totally unbearable.
OF: Yes, they would say the same about us, when they hear us going to the bathroom, blowing our noses, and coming back. They're like "Eurgh, you blow your nose". Because this is the whole thing about wearing masks. It's all about keeping your exhalations to yourself. And so when you're sniffing, in a sense, you're sniffing in your own runny nose, because it's rude to blow them out.
JM: I prefer the nose-blowing scenario.
OF: I totally prefer it. Totally. Next question, is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?
JM: Oh, it's got to be the rate of change, particularly construction. Like, so for example, out of our office window, there was a building that was just like a massive hole in the ground. And now there's, like a 30-storey building. And it's the same across the way from my apartment. It's like one day, almost like there was an unveiling, it's like "Oh my god, there's a whole full apartment building". And it just happened so fast. Only China can do that. Or you can go somewhere every day - to a restaurant or somewhere - and then you'll turn up the next day, and it's gone. And somehow it still surprises me every single time.
OF: What was the gap between when you lived here the first time, and then you came back? How many years were you away?
JM: About three years.
OF: You would hardly recognise it.
JM: Yeah. But also as well, no one really spoke English the first time. I came back this time, a lot of people around and about speak English. And a lot of people are more willing to help you this time. I find that quite a lot of people want to talk to me a bit more than they did the last time. And I think it's because, certainly in Shanghai, people have got much more used to foreigners. They want to talk to you, in a way that maybe they wanted to before but felt more reluctant to do so.
OF: Yeah. Where is your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink or hang out?
JM: See it's actually not too far from here, Oscar. And I think you'll understand when I say like 武康 [Wǔkāng] Road, 富民 [Fùmín] Road. Even though we're living in the middle of a big city, they all kind of feel quite European, feels quite relaxed, it's got a chilled atmosphere, and it's just a really nice place to hang out.
OF: What is the best or worst purchase you've made in China? And this is a good question for you.
JM: Well, I made a very fast purchase earlier this year. So it was Chinese New Year. And we have our annual dinner every year, which is the highlight of the calendar in our office. I'm not part of the entertainment, I have to judge it, and I kind of MC the evening. So I thought "I'm going to dress up this year in something Chinese, something nice". But I was in a real hurry. So I got a taxi down to the fabric market. And I went into one of the shops and I said "Can I have a dress that'll fit me? I haven't got time for you to make it, or come back next week. I need a dress."
JM: Yeah, basically immediately. The lady said "What about this one?" And it was this red dress. So I went in, tried it on, it fitted like a glove. And I went "That'll do." And I was out of there. And the whole thing took about 15 minutes. And anyway I wore said dress to the annual dinner. And the reaction I got from the office - because I made the effort to wear this dress - was actually quite touching. Even though it only took me about 10 minutes to buy it. So it was the best thing I ever bought. And it wasn't even expensive. And the quality is excellent. Which is another great thing about China.
OF: Fifteen minutes well spent there, Jo.
OF: What is your favourite WeChat sticker? OK, what are we looking at here?
JM: Oh my goodness, how do we describe this? They're like The Golden Girls. And they're kind of like shimming their chests. Is that the best way to say it, Oscar?
JM: And that, to me, is a fun sticker. Because I have a lot of fun in Shanghai, and I've got a lot of girlfriends that make me smile, and all the great people that I've met while I'm here.
OF: Beautiful. What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?
JM: I have not got one, Oscar. Because, if you heard my singing voice… No honestly, I've said to my friends "Have I got the worst singing voice you've ever heard?" And they all go "Yes".
OF: I've had bad luck this season. Because I've asked this question, of course, to everyone. And the number of people who have said that, this season…
JM: No but Oscar, you don't understand, they've all got better voices than me. I like singing stupid things like Robbie Williams' 'Angels', or 'I Will Survive' is always a popular one.
OF: Yeah. And who cares if it's good or bad? And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?
JM: Well, we ask our factories. Because they're really well informed. So even things… if we said to them "Where do you think the exchange rate's gonna be in six months?" you honestly get a good answer.
JM: You get a much better answer than if you asked our Treasury. Because they are actually… Their fingers are on the pulse out here. And we have a lot of factories that are connected to the government. So we do tend to get very good information from our network.
OF: Yes. Thank you so much Jo.
JM: Thank you Oscar, I've really enjoyed it.
OF: And finally the last question is, out of everyone you know in China, who should I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?
JM: Well, I spent a lot of time in various fitness establishments around Shanghai, but there's one that I really love the most. And Oscar, I think I've seen you in there too. It's called Z&B, and it's very inclusive because it is for locals and for foreigners as well. And it was set up by a Danish lady called Siri, who's been here for quite a while, and I remember her from the first time I was here. She is a very impressive lady, and I think you'll enjoy talking to her a lot.
OF: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I look forward to meeting Siri. She sounds amazing.
JM: She is.
OF: Thank you Jo. See you soon.
JM: Thank you Oscar. You will!
OF: If you want to hear more from Jo, there's an extra 15 minutes in today's PREMIUM version of the show, which you can subscribe to on Patreon or on 爱发电 [Àifādiàn] in China. Head to https://mosaicofchina.com for instruction on how to subscribe, and you'll get the same extra content for every episode of the Season. Here are some clips from today's…
JM: I can remember going to a factory, driving along the road, and then the road just stopped. There was no road.
JM: Back in the day, we've had containers fall off ships.
OF: They fell off the ship?
JM: It's happened before.
JM: And someone said to me "That's not their washing line, that's their wardrobe. Because there's probably ten people living in that room".
OF: Oh right.
JM: Now, are there still sweatshops in China? Absolutely. But certainly, we don't use factories like that.
JM: I said to one of the factories "You know, as a responsible factory, do you not want to try and drive the use of these fantastic new sustainable materials you've got?" And he basically said "No.
JM: Oh we once had some bicycles that we brought in, and the wheels didn't go round. That's not ideal.
[End of Audio Clips]
If listening to today's show has made you curious about the place Jo comes from, then please drop everything and make a point of watching the TV show we mentioned right at the beginning of the episode, 'Derry Girls'. For a start, it's hilarious. But apart from that, it does help to explain the culture of Northern Island, which is a part of the world that not many people in Asia know much about, apart from the fact that they filmed parts of 'Game of Thrones' there.
And coming back to today's conversation, and I think I have one correction about what we said about this part of the world. We both said that they do dragon dances when they open a new shop, or office, or factory, which I said I saw a lot of in Hong Kong. But I didn't, because those weren't dragons, they're lions. And unlike Jo, I have personally never seen these lion dances in mainland China, I've only ever seen them when I lived in Hong Kong, where they used to end the dance by laying out pieces of fruit in the shape of auspicious Chinese characters. But yeah, it should be quite clear to you by now that I don't know enough about this, so I will shut up before I embarrass myself any more.
To school me on this, please reach out on social media, you can add me on WeChat using the ID: mosaicofchina, where I'll add you to the listeners group; or you'll be able to find the accounts under the same name on Instagram and Facebook. You'll also find photos there of Jo and her object, the bottle of wine; her favourite WeChat sticker, which was from another TV show, not 'Derry Girls', but 'The Golden Girls'; her best purchase, that red dress she bought off the rack at the fabric market; and loads of other stuff too.
Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. There follows a catch-up chat with Jorge Luzio, the marketing executive from Coca-Cola from Season 01 Episode 05, so stick around for that. And we'll be back again next week.
OF: Hello, Jorge.
JL: Hello, how are you?
OF: I'm good.
JL: Good to be back.
OF: Yeah, but we have actually spent a lot of time together.
OF: In fact, what I've been asking everyone is, where were they when Coronavirus hit. But I don't have to ask you that, because you and I were both on a skiing trip in Hokkaido, right?
JL: Correct. So we were stuck in Hokkaido, as you know. And then we decided to stay a little bit longer, as we received the news that there was an outbreak in China. So we stayed one more week in Tokyo, because I was planning to go to South Africa. At that time, I was appointed to be the Head of the Sparkling business in the South African business unit. So we went there. And then the Coronavirus actually exploded even more in China. So that forced us to stay even longer, for about three weeks in South Africa. It was good in the sense that I started to interact with the team that I was going to work with. But it was very interesting. As soon as we were able to go back to China, we decided "OK, let's go back". Because we needed to do all the paperwork, we needed to start preparing ourselves to pack our stuff, and prepare ourselves to go to Africa, right? So we came here, and then the outbreak started in Africa. So we couldn't go back. And it was quite quite, painful after that time, to be honest. Because it took us, like, three months, doing the new job for Africa, based from here. It was quite complicated, especially during this specific time of COVID, there was a lot of, you know, uncertainty, anxiousness, back and forth planning… Yep.
OF: So how did it end up, then?
JL: I was not able to go to Africa until February 2021. That was the best expectation of us to relocate there. So I decided that it was not sustainable. So I started to talk with my community, my bosses, other people's bosses. And we took the decision of saying that I was not going to Africa anymore, because I was not planning for success. And so now, I've been appointed as a global marketing director for the innovation of a new segment that we are exploring in Coca-Cola, which is the 'Emerging Categories', as we call it. But it's basically alcohol. I don't know if you heard in the news?
OF: Well, I heard from you.
OF: But yeah, this is an exciting situation for Coca-Cola. Have you ever done alcohol before, as a company?
JL: Sure, we had some attempts in Brazil, and especially in Japan, where we launched, two years ago, a brand named '檸檬堂 [Lemon-Do]', and it's been quite a successful brand. So the idea is to expand our portfolio towards that direction, in what we call 'Flavour Alcoholic Beverages'. So it's really exciting for the company. And it's very seamless, and very agile, and very highspeed outcomes that we are doing right now. So it's completely different for me., and for us as an organisation, especially in the midst of this crisis. I think it's been quite interesting.
OF: And I can see why this makes more sense than doing a very geography-specific role from a remote location. This role, you can do from anywhere in the world. Whereas of course, the role you had in Africa was very much compromised by the fact that you didn't know the team, and you were stuck in China, right?
OF: Did you have any visibility, then, in terms of what Coca-Cola - and your brand, Sprite - were doing during COVID? Like, were people stuck at home and they were ordering more Sprite? Were the factories still producing the Sprite?
JL: Yes, actually, in China, we had fantastic business continuity. So we prioritised the big brands, and actually the brands helped the consumers to feel like they're secure, that they have sufficient supply of their preferred beverages. We saw that there were some shifts, in terms of like, there was a big trend during COVID about not drinking too many sugary beverages. So we saw an important rise in the non-sugar portfolio, which was very interesting, also in the way that we could accommodate the portfolio strategies behind it.
OF: Well, thank you so much, Jorge.
JL: Thank you very much.
OF: Good catch-up. In terms of who you recommended for the next season. unfortunately they had to pull out, so there will not be a connection with the next season. But I found a good replacement.
OF: So I hope that you will enjoy that episode as well, and continue being a member of the Mosaic in the future.
JL: Yes, of course, I'm super proud to still be here.
OF: Thanks, Jorge.
JL: Thank you.