The Northeast is officially getting a new Coca-Cola bottler. This week, Liberty Coca-Cola delivered its first beverages to customers in communities from Philadelphia and New York City, to New Jersey and Connecticut.   

Liberty co-owners Paul Mulligan and Fran McGorry, both former Coca-Cola executives with extensive knowledge of the beverage business, were on hand to celebrate the new bottler’s first production run in Philadelphia.

McGorry’s roots run deep in the City of Brotherly Love. A Philly native, Fran, ran the Tri-State Metro Operating Unit for Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR) before joining with Mulligan to establish Liberty Coca-Cola. Mulligan, a more than 20-year Coca-Cola veteran, most recently served as president of Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR), leading all company-owned bottling operations in North America.

Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages is the latest addition to the network of 68 locally-focused Coca-Cola bottlers. Over the past decade, Coca-Cola has been returning the ownership of its operations to its locally focused bottling partners through a refranchising program.

We caught up with McGorry and Mulligan on their first official day of operations to learn more about the future of Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages. 

Tell us about your history with The Coca-Cola Company?

Mulligan: I started with The Coca-Cola Company in Romania, then went to Bulgaria and ran the Swiss business. Once I came to the U.S., my responsibility was to cover the commercial function for the Bottling Investments Group, which covered 22 countries, from China to India to the Philippines.

McGorry: I started at Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling over 30 years ago, and I had an opportunity to leave Philadelphia Coca-Cola for the first time to come up to New York in 1997. I went back to Philadelphia Coca-Cola as CFO, then became general manager and president of Coca-Cola Philadelphia.

During my time at Philadelphia Coca-Cola, I got an opportunity to work with Paul in the Bottling Investment Group. That opened my eyes to a whole world of possibilities. That’s the culture we want to create at Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages – where we are looking at the best-in-class really around the whole world, not just in the U.S., and bringing it back to the marketplace here in New York, Philly and New Jersey.

What does the launch of Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages mean to you?

McGorry: While I have a long history at Coca-Cola, I'm extremely excited about the official launch of Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages. There are a lot of people that put a ton of effort into making it happen. I'm looking forward to getting out in the facilities, getting out in the market and engaging with everyone in the marketplace.

Mulligan: It's great honor being a Coca-Cola bottling owner.  I’m joining an incredible family of bottlers.  We're so happy to be part of that family, and we want to make the Coke system incredibly proud of us. 

What does being a Coca-Cola bottler mean to you?

Mulligan: Becoming a local bottler in New York City and Philadelphia and Jersey necessitates us really dialing up our outreach to the communities we serve – through our 4,600 associates. Our associates are passionate ambassadors of the Coca-Cola mission and values. We want to bring them to the forefront of this effort to ensure that we are bringing intrinsic value to all of our communities. 

Can you talk about the importance of investments – in facilities, routes to market, equipment, etc. – and how they are fueling your growth?

McGorry: We want to invest in our people. Our people are really the drivers of our business.  We want to double-down on our investments and our training for our front-line people on coaching, on sales training across our entire organization and building long-term capability. 

But most importantly, the marketplace is really where we want to invest to drive incremental growth. We have 10 distribution centers located throughout New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, four manufacturing plants in New Jersey, Philly and two in New York, and about 150,000 pieces of cold drink equipment. We're going to be investing even more in each outlet, through investments in cold drink equipment, point-of-sale and other tools to really make a difference in the market and really make it local.

You have a large and diverse territory- can you explain how you are going to appeal to a very diverse consumer base?

McGorry: In the past, we may have just looked at New York City as one big market. But, when you really break it down into each segment of our market, Queens is as big as most cities in the U.S. The Bronx is as big as most cities in the U.S. So, we're going to look at each market and make highly localized investments.

Mulligan: Segmenting our markets is key. Our total beverage company approach allows us to bring drinks to the marketplace in all categories, from coconut water to orange juice to Dunkin' coffee to sparkling water and much more. We have drinks for all of those different occasions and all of those different taste profiles. 

Looking ahead, what motivates you about the future of Liberty Coca-Cola?

Mulligan: We also feel so proud and privileged to be working with the best brand in the world. I do also feel a little bit nervous because we're taking on this challenge.  It's exciting but it's a big step and I can't wait to get going. The Coca-Cola Company has been growing every year for the last 131 years, and I know with our plan we've got a sustainable future ahead of us, and one that creates enormous opportunities for all our associates and our communities.

McGorry: We've got a very solid business plan geared toward profitability.  But it's not profitability for profitability's sake; it's the profit that allows us to reinvest because we're building the plan for the next 10 years, the next 20 years. Success to us is about investing for growth, investing for the long-term so that Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages can bring jobs to our community – jobs for my kids, your kids, our associates' kids. We are building a business to be sustainable for the next 131 years of this great brand.