In 2015, Mayor Greg Fischer and other local dignitaries gathered at a giant warehouse in southwest Louisville to celebrate a transformation.
For five long years, the 305,000-sq.-ft. warehouse had sat vacant, despite non-stop efforts to find a new tenant. Now, on a rainy day in late March, there was red ribbon to be cut, a throng of people on hand to witness it, and a grand opening to commemorate.
The once-vacant building had been transformed into a state-of-the-art sales and distribution center for Charlotte, N.C.-based Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, representing a $12 million investment.
“A positive statement about the company’s commitment to Louisville,” said Mayor Fischer that day, while the bottler’s Chairman and CEO, Frank Harrison, proclaimed Louisville “a great, vibrant city with a long Coca-Cola history.”
That grand opening is one part of an ongoing expansion of Coca-Cola Consolidated, one of the largest and oldest independent bottlers in the United States.
More recently, Coca-Cola Consolidated started operating in Ohio, from Toledo east along Lake Erie to Youngstown near the Pennsylvania border, an area previously served by the Coca-Cola Refreshments unit of The Coca-Cola Company. That’s in addition to 15 other states where Consolidated already operates and serves more than 50 million consumers.
The latest growth spurt shows why Coke Consolidated, in its 115th year of business, remains integral to the success of Coca-Cola in North America. It also illustrates how far the company has come since its 1902 founding.
From Horse-Drawn Carriages to State-of-the-Art Production
At the turn of the 20th Century, three North Carolina entrepreneurs – J. Luther Snyder, J. P. Gibbons and J. B. Harrison (great-grandfather of the current chairman) – began their efforts to bring bottled Coke to their state. It was the early days of bottles, when most people were still forced to travel, often long distances, to enjoy Coca-Cola at a drugstore soda fountain.
Bottling wasn’t the sophisticated operation it is today. Production workers washed refillable bottles by hand, used manually operated bottling machines to fill them, corked them by hand, and sold them from horse-drawn carriages. Eventually, hand-corking and horse-drawn carriages gave way to mass bottling machinery, which came into production as early bottlers expanded their territories.
Charlotte Coca-Cola Bottling Co. became Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Mid-Carolinas in 1972, transitioning to the company’s current name, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, in 1973.
The ties between Consolidated and Atlanta-based Coca-Cola deepened over the years. In 1983, Marvin Griffin from Coca-Cola USA became Consolidated's CEO. Under his leadership, the company expanded its territory more aggressively, most notably with the 1985 purchase of Wometco Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which had served territories in Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
More recently, Coca-Cola Consolidated has taken advantage of Coca-Cola’s refranchising campaign to further fuel its growth. The Louisville expansion was part of that strategy, with Consolidated purchasing the operation in February 2015, closing an outdated facility on Hill Street in Louisville and bringing 350 employees to the new sales and distribution center.
On its new site, the company renovated a once-vacant warehouse, created office space and added a 100,000-square-foot make-ready center, where the Company’s vending and fountain equipment is serviced. The facility handles sales and distribution of Coca-Cola products in a 21-county area stretching from Owen County to Hardin County in Kentucky and Jefferson County to Harrison County in Indiana.
The transformation was reason enough for then-CEO Muhtar Kent and Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas to visit Louisville in 2015. What they saw impressed them.
Kent noted the company’s refranchising strategy was “coming to life in such a way that I believe the U.S. business is going to be one of the best in the world over the next five years” and said bottling partners like Coke Consolidated give the business “the local touch, the local passion and the local purpose that’s so important.”
Since 2013, Coca-Cola Consolidated has expanded its distribution territory in parts of Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia and purchased manufacturing facilities in Indiana, Maryland, Ohio and Virginia. Coke Consolidated now serves more than 50 million consumers across the Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.
The bottler continues to work toward definitive agreements with The Coca-Cola Company on several remaining transactions, including the exchange of distribution territory in the southern parts of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi and south-central Kentucky and a manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama, for distribution territory in parts of Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee and northwestern Mississippi and manufacturing facilities in Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas.
Additionally, Coke Consolidated is working with another bottler, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, for the exchange of distribution territory in south-central Tennessee, northwest Alabama, and northwest Florida for distribution territory in and around Spartanburg and Bluffton, South Carolina.