So, where do you work? It’s the first question we ask someone new and it often sparks interesting conversations. Just ask Merle Tommy, who’s used to fielding questions about her job. 

Merle heads up the shopper marketing department at Coca-Cola South Pacific. Everyone’s curious, but it’s her closest friends who ask the most pointed questions. “At a barbecue friends and family will challenge me on the product,” Merle said.

It’s not too surprising as no organisation is immune from criticism. For its part, Coca-Cola is helping its employees connect with each other and the company through an ambassador program that includes a music workshop hosted by Song Division

At a recent workshop staff were encouraged to tell their own Coke story, and Merle’s answer was considered a winner. Growing up in South Africa, Merle was politically active as a teenager. And it all began with a protest on a more domestic cause of injustice: her parents. “Growing up in South Africa, we always had Coke in the fridge.” But one afternoon when Merle came home to find the fridge empty, she decided to stage an intervention.

“I spent the better part of an afternoon doing up placards,” she laughed. “I found a Coke t-shirt that I put on my brother, and we marched out into the lounge room where my mum and dad were watching TV and protested.”

Thankfully, Merle’s demands were met. “My mother thought it was hilarious, and she sent my Dad out to go and get a bottle of Coke.”

Merle’s political beginnings gave her a strong belief in personal freedoms, and her perspective includes her work. “People do challenge me on sugar content and that type of thing, but my response is that its your choice what you consume,” she said.

“We offer a range of different products and beverages, and if you dont want to drink any of them, including water, then thats your prerogative. But balanced diet, exercise and a good lifestyle means you can have pretty much whatever you want in moderation. Thats my personal belief.”