“We noticed our funding was dwindling and dwindling, and it came to a point where we were getting no funding from Coca-Cola,” he said. “Here at the NSA, of course we consume Coca-Cola, we sell your product, we display your product, how the heck are you going to cut us out?”
More concerning to Garcia—who in 2012 led the New York State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in a fight on behalf of Coca-Cola and bodega owners against former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed “soda ban”—was watching Coca-Cola pull back its support for Hispanic business interests after it announced in October 2020 that $500 million in supply chain spending would go for Black-owned enterprises over five years.
“I went against Bloomberg for the soda tax and now they want to eliminate the office and give most of the money to Black Lives Matter and give us crumbs—the community that distributes Coca-Cola?” Garcia fumed. “Why isn’t Coca-Cola making the same investment in what they’re doing with African American businesses with the Latino and bodega businesses that are going under?”
There is no evidence that Coca-Cola has given any money to the Black Lives Matter organization, but the company announced in June 2020 that the Coca-Cola Foundation would donate $2.5 million to the Equal Justice Initiative, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
When asked for a response to the concerns of the Hispanic business community, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said, "Our commitment to our Hispanic consumers and communities is as strong as ever," and emphasized that "the decision to integrate the Latin Affairs work into all aspects of the business" was part of an overall restructuring effort announced last year.
The concerns of Hispanic business leaders snowballed in the past couple of months when the NSA, the Bodega and Small Business Association and the National Association of Latino State Chamber of Commerce wrote letters to Coca-Cola, addressing the alleged closing of the Office of Latin Affairs and perceived lack of investment in and commitment to the Hispanic American community.
“As your customers we ask that you reconsider closing down the Office of Latin Affairs at Coca-Cola and start a conversation with us,” wrote Francisco Marte, general scretary of the Bodega and Small Business Association.
Alba Baylin, vice president of Coca-Cola Community and Stakeholder Relations, said in an internal email to Garcia that the work of the Office of Latin Affairs had been integrated across the resources of a more than 80-member department, "where the expertise and capabilities of that team can better serve stakeholders and engage with our Hispanic community partners.”
A former employee at the Coca-Cola Office of Latin Affairs confirmed to Crain’s that the four-member office closed earlier this year and that Peter Villegas, former vice president and head of the office, was no longer working for the company after six years in that role.
On Tuesday, Garcia, Marte, Eusebio and other Hispanic business leaders met with Coca-Cola executives, including Baylin, to discuss the issue and clear the air.
Following the meeting, Garcia said Coca-Cola leadership had made a commitment to give more supply and distributions contracts to Hispanic-owned businesses and explained that the leadership had merged the Office of Latin Affairs with other communications departments to save money, a point which Coca-Cola disputed.
“They made a commitment to support the bodegas they never funded,” Garcia said.
Eusebio said Baylin did not address why the company decreased funding for the NSA, but she promised Coca-Cola would work with his organization.
“I feel 100% better, but I can only take people at their word,” Eusebio said. “They promised us our funding would return and it may even be better than before.”
When asked why the closing of the office and funding issues sparked such a reaction from the Hispanic business leaders, Garcia did not mince words:
“We wanted to give a message to corporate America that we won’t tolerate this disrespect,” Garcia said. “We want equity with our counterparts. Don’t take away from us to give more to African Americans. A lot of my chambers nationally are closing down because of funding.”
—Crain's New York Business