BEDFORD, N.H. – When Mark Francoeur went to bed on the night of Sept. 29, he was leading one of the country’s largest Coca-Cola bottlers.

When he woke up the next morning, The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE) had tripled in size after acquiring territory from The Coca-Cola Company across eight states in the Northeast – including all of New England, upstate and western New York, and a portion of Pennsylvania.

The New Hampshire-based bottler – which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – now owns and manages Coca-Cola operations in several major metro markets, including Boston, Providence, Hartford, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. Growing from 1,100 to almost 4,000 employees, CCNNE expects to sell 55 million more cases of beverages annually as a result of the expansion, bringing total volume to about 86 million cases per year.

“Being part of the iconic Coca-Cola brand has always been tremendously gratifying and humbling for us as a local bottler, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this next chapter of our history,” said Francoeur, who has served as president of CCNNE since 2013. “Our hardworking associates are our greatest asset, and I’m beyond proud to welcome over 2,600 new people to the CCNNE family. This is a milestone year for us, and we see huge opportunity ahead.”

Mark Francoeur
Mark Francoeur at CCNNE headquarters in New Hampshire.

In addition to its legacy footprint that includes a state-of-the-art manufacturing center and 10 sales and distribution centers around the region, CCNNE is taking over two additional manufacturing plants and 19 distribution centers that were formerly part of Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR), a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company.

CCNNE has local roots that date back to a single bottling operation that started 40 years ago in 1977 in Laconia, N.H. Francoeur’s Coca-Cola career started in 1993, thanks to a relationship fostered on the golf course.

“I caddied for a gentleman by the name of Oakley Jones,” he recalled. “He was a third-generation Coca-Cola bottler. He hired me as a CCNNE account manager in Maine. I saw firsthand the passion and joy he had for this business and the communities we serve… and it was contagious.”

Francoeur enjoys a Coke on the golf course in July 1981.

Francoeur, a native New Englander who was born in Maine and grew up in New Hampshire, climbed the ranks over the two decades that followed. “We’re fortunate to be part of a special system of incredible people who support each other and take a tremendous amount of pride in what they do each day,” he said.

We caught up with Francoeur as the ink on the contract was still drying to learn more about CCNNE’s past, present and future.

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

Being a bottler comes with a lot of responsibility to uphold and build upon the wonderful history of the Coca-Cola system. The communities we’re fortunate to do business in are the lifeblood of our business. So we have a responsibility to actively support them. And now we have more than 4,000 ambassadors representing Coca-Cola in the community, volunteering their time and talents. If you think of where we were at the beginning of this year and where are today, the opportunity we have to impact so many more communities is pretty special.

This deal is coming near the end of a decade-long process of returning Coca-Cola Company-owned bottling operations to independent companies. Why is this good news for you and your customers?

Simply stated, empowering local bottlers to make local decisions with support from the resources of The Coca-Cola Company – capabilities, brands and more – is an unbelievable formula. We commend The Coca-Cola Company for taking this step. As the company gets a more singular focus on brand- and capability-building, it will be that much sharper. And as we become a larger bottler – with added scale – we will be able to serve our customers and communities that much better.

Looking ahead, what motivates you about the future of CCNNE?

It’s an exciting time to be in this business. Change has never been more significant – not only in our product and packaging portfolio, but also in the overall retail landscape. New players, categories and segments are popping up all the time. And when you combine this change with explosive growth in new categories and our strong position in them, plus the growth of our smaller packs and low- and no-calorie offerings, we see a lot of runway ahead. So we’re focused on building the right capabilities as an organization so we can power our teams to go out and capture this opportunity.

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

We see capital investment as paramount to our success. In 2011, we made a large-scale facility investment in Waterford, Connecticut. And over the last five years, we’ve made two significant production line investments, for in-line blow molding. These investments are not only smart for business; they’re sustainable, as well, saving us hundreds of truckloads of deliveries per year.

From a community standpoint, we invest in a number of local and regional organizations, including Special Olympics, the American Red Cross and New Hampshire the Beautiful. Now we have the opportunity to expand our community investment across a much larger territory. And we see that as a recipe for success.

How important is sustainability to CCNNE?

Sustainability is fundamental to being successful as a Coca-Cola bottler. Our customers and consumers expect companies they do business with and support to be socially and environmentally responsible. And we’re quite proud of the work we’ve done in this area. An example is our zero-waste, state-of-the-art production center in Londonderry (N.H.), which uses an innovative water management system to recycle approximately 20 million gallons of water annually. It’s one of only a few bottling plants in the country to achieve this high standard of environmental stewardship. In 2016, we recycled 2.8 million pounds of aluminum and 4.6 million pounds of PET plastic, and our associates spend over 120 days per year teaching recycling education to school groups and community organizations throughout the Northeast.

Speaking of customers, how important are relationships to your team?

Relationships have been a constant in terms of earning trust, and will always be fundamental to success in this business. We take a people-first approach, and we take pride in the relationships we have with our customers.

What about internally? How would you describe the CCNNE culture?

We aim to create an environment that’s positive and empowering. And that starts with me. I respect everyone I work with and, in turn, expect everyone else to respect each other. This isn’t an easy business. There are a lot of people working really hard every day to grow the business. And that starts with respecting the work and respecting the customer. We put a strong emphasis on instilling a culture of respect, engaging and treating folks the way they want to be treated, and empowering our people. We let our leaders lead by instilling confidence and providing the tools they need to succeed.  

New creative advertising reminds Americans that ‘We’re Coca-Cola and so much more’. Why is this message important?

We have an obligation to articulate our total beverage portfolio, anchored by the great Coca-Cola brand. We must reinforce what we make and sell. We can’t be afraid to tell our story – from the depth of our portfolio, to the steps we take each day to bring value to the local community. Our system, for so many years, has done so many great things across the country, but we haven’t talked about it much. That time needs to pass. We should be proud about the story we have to tell.