For the more than 40,000 people who descended on Omaha, Neb. for this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareowners Meeting, there was more to the show than catching some sage advice from icon investor Warren Buffett. 

“A lot of people are here for the shopping,” says Humberto Garcia-Sjogrim, the Coke associate responsible for the company’s activation during the meeting. “We’ve been interacting with Berkshire Hathaway and Coca-Cola fans for years each spring in Omaha, and have learned that beyond coming to have fun and pay homage to their oracle, many Berkshire shareowners come here specifically to shop.”

Berkshire Hathaway annual shareowners meeting

Over three days, thousands of Buffett-enthusiasts file through a nearly 200,000-sq.-ft. exhibition hall in Omaha’s Century Link Center to support the major companies in which Berkshire Hathaway invests.

Hot items at this year’s meeting included Brooks running shoes emblazoned with Warren Buffett’s image, bright yellow Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts known as “Berky Boxers,” commemorative boxes of See’s Candies, special-edition Justin cowboy boots, Heinz “Perfect Pair” ketchup and mustard bottles adorned with images of Buffett and his Vice Chairman Charlie Munger and, yes, limited-edition Berkshire Hathaway jewelry from Borsheim’s.

As for Coca-Cola merchandise, business is brisk.

From the Company’s 60-by-20 booth, Garcia-Sjogrim sold commemorative Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting Coca-Cola bottles, Coca-Cola t-shirts and custom “Share a Coke” mini-cans.

Berkshire Hathaway annual shareowners meeting

“We’d give more of it away – especially product samples – but a rule of Berkshire meeting retailing is that nothing can be free,” he said. “Mr. Buffett wants to make sure the fundamental laws of capitalism are observed.”

Donita Hagen, a business manager in Coca-Cola Refreshments Omaha Market Unit, volunteered more than 30 hours of her personal time to help delight Coke fans during the Berkshire meeting.

Taking a break from working the cash register, she said, “I love meeting the people. Everyone is so warm and friendly.”

She said she saw a lot of Coke collectors across the counter during the weekend but that customizable “Share a Coke” mini-cans seemed to be the hottest seller.

Berkshire Hathaway annual shareowners meeting
Coke's Muhtar Kent with Berkshire shareowners Gerald and Carol Smith.

Gerald and Carol Smith of Holstein, Iowa, stopped by the Coke booth early Saturday just before the annual meeting began. They said they keep coming back because of the wonderful, interesting people they meet from all around the world, albeit a much larger meeting today than in the early days.

“In 1989, Warren Buffett would personally hand me a Coke when we'd walk into the Orpheum Theatre (where the meeting was then held)," Gerald Smith said. "Only about 1,500 people attended in those days.” 

Now thousands line up early for the chance to gain advice from Buffett and Munger, and, of course, to do a little shopping.

Coca-Cola and Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway have a storied history together. Since the late 1980s Berkshire has been Coca-Cola’s largest single shareowner with an investment of 400 million shares. In its most recent annual report, Berkshire disclosed a gain on its Coca-Cola investment of nearly $15.6 billion, not including the ongoing benefits of quarterly dividends.

Warren Buffett also served on The Coca-Cola Company’s Board of Directors for 17 years, from 1989 to 2006, and his son Howard Buffett is currently a director.