Coca-Cola may have gotten its start at the soda fountain, but the bottling system has given the brand its global reach while maintaining a local focus.

Bottlers, who produce and distribute Coca-Cola products, are the true “face” of the brand. Aside from polishing the world’s most recognized trademark and ensuring the company’s brands are always within an arm’s reach of desire, they serve local businesses, fuel local economies and make a positive difference in local communities.

The Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association – which represents the 69 independent Coca-Cola bottling companies in the U.S., plus associate members in Bermuda and Puerto Rico – is one of the country’s longest-standing trade associations. The organization known as the CCBA celebrated its centennial anniversary this week during a special ceremony at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

“Since the earliest days of Coca-Cola, our bottling partners have been integral to the Coca-Cola system’s growth and success,” said Steve Cahillane, president of Coca-Cola Americas. “With the help of the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association, our Coca-Cola products are refreshing the world, inspiring moments of optimism and happiness, more than 1.8 billion times per day.”

In 1913, the year the CCBA was formed, the size of a Coca-Cola bottler’s territory was determined by the delivery capacity of a mule. Today, the global fleet of Coca-Cola delivery trucks is larger than UPS and FedEx combined.

As the beverage industry and bottling business have evolved over the years, the CCBA has connected independent U.S. bottlers and helped them thrive every step of the way. Shortly after it was formed, the association pioneered the field of product liability protection in the U.S., writing the first policy in 1914. Two years later, the group championed the development and roll-out of the iconic Coca-Cola glass contour bottle. 

More recent achievements include launching The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation in 1986 in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company. During the first decade of the new millennium, The Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Foundation donated more than $30 million to a variety of local charities, including educational institutions and youth organizations that encourage active, healthy lifestyles.

“The Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association helps empower us as members to leave a positive mark everywhere we do business,” said Claude Nielsen, chairman and CEO, Coca-Cola United, a CCBA member. “As a local face of Coca-Cola, our company is privileged to play an important role in the communities in which we operate and contribute to the success of the world’s most recognized brand.”

The Aug. 19 celebration at the World of Coca-Cola recognized the pivotal role independent bottlers play in the Coca-Cola system. Bart Gobeil, chief operating officer of the State of Georgia, presented a commendation to the association on behalf of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recognizing CCBA’s legacy of support for local communities.

Three “Living Legends” from the CCBA community – Wes Elmer, retired president of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England; Edwin C. “Cookie” Rice, chairman and CEO, Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company; and Sandy Williams, chairman, Corinth Coca-Cola Bottling Works – also were recognized for their contributions to the association’s mission, to the industry as a whole, and to their communities.

The evening also looked to the future. As product and packaging development accelerates, the collaborative ingenuity of Coca-Cola’s independent bottlers is more crucial than ever.

“Over the past century, The Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association has continually developed and redefined the beverage business,” said John Gould, CCBA’s executive director. “Now, we eagerly renew our promise for the next century: to enhance the business of our members, to unite the system through new opportunities and challenges and to leave communities better and happier than we found them.”

He concluded, “We are proud of the unique and special role we play in the success of the world’s most recognized trademark and a business system that has meant so much to so many.”