NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Minority shareholder Wintergreen Advisers wants Coca-Cola (KO) CEO Muhtar Kent to be replaced. But according to Adam Fleck, director of consumer equity research at Morningstar, Kent doesn't deserve all of the blame.
Coca-Cola is suffering from a secular decline in the soft drink business, which is also weighing on PepsiCo (PEP) . North American soda volumes have continued to drop for the last 10 years, he explained.
So while Kent might have taken some missteps, he's not the only one to blame for this change in consumers' preferences. It could be argued that the company took too long to get into the energy drink and juice market, but at least it's headed in the right direction now.
According to Wintergreen Advisers, Coca-Cola's acquisitions have cost shareholders $16.3 billion.
While Fleck agreed that some of the company's acquisitions are questionable -- like Coke's purchase of its North American bottlers, which it later franchised and spun off the distribution assets, or its purchase of Glaceau -- some investments have been attractive.
For instance, by having stakes in Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) and Monster Beverage (MNST) , Coca-Cola is able to stay focused on its core businesses and products, while still having exposure to higher growth businesses.
Fleck also likes that Kent and the management team are focused on improving what the company can control right now. That means cutting costs, boosting cash flows and improving its return on capital.
Right now, Kent and the Coca-Cola management team are focused on improving the company and have a "solid trajectory" going forward, Fleck concluded.
-- Written by Bret Kenwell