The Coca-Cola Company today announced plans to transition sales and distribution rights for its hometown of Atlanta and other Georgia markets to Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED as part of an accelerated plan to refranchise half of its company-owned U.S. bottler-delivered volume by the end of 2017. 

Through a letter of intent signed today, Coca-Cola UNITED, based in Birmingham, Ala., will acquire territories in north and central Georgia, including the Metro Atlanta area, Athens, Macon and Rome. Coca-Cola UNITED, currently the country’s third-largest Coca-Cola bottler and largest privately held bottler, also will acquire production facilities in College Park and Marietta, Ga.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Cleveland, Tenn.

“Coca-Cola has called Atlanta home for almost 130 years. We are proud to have Coca-Cola UNITED as one of our partners in building the North America system of the future, including here in Georgia,” said Sandy Douglas, president, Coca-Cola North America. 

Douglas said The Coca-Cola Company will remain closely involved in the local community.

Additional letters of intent signed today grant Tampa-based Coca-Cola Beverages Florida territory in Southeastern Florida including Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood, Miami and West Palm Beach. St. Cloud, Minn.-based Viking Coca-Cola Bottling Company will assume territory in Northern Minnesota, including Duluth and Northern Wisconsin including Ashland, and a portion of Michigan. Read the full press release.

The announcement marks the next phase in the transformation of Coke’s U.S. bottling landscape, which began five years ago with the company’s acquisition of Coca-Cola Enterprises’ North American operations and subsequent formation of Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR). The company has since refranchised select CCR distribution territories to U.S. bottling partners to create a system of contiguous operating territories that balances national scale and local capability.

Coca-Cola UNITED has acquired new distribution territories throughout the Southeast as a part of the refranchising process, starting with Oxford, Ala. in early 2014.

“We’ve been very intentional and aggressive in implementing our local operating model and building capability through investments in our people and our assets to provide a high level of customer service,” said Claude Nielsen, chairman and CEO, Coca-Cola UNITED. “While it’s still early in the refranchising process, the positive results we’re seeing in terms of associate excitement and customer satisfaction are very encouraging. This is a people business and a relationship business. As we’ve made these transitions, we’ve met a lot of great Coca-Cola people in every market who have embraced our relationship-based approach.”

The acquisition of the Atlanta territory brings with it a tremendous amount of opportunity and significant responsibility, Nielsen said.

“The specialness of Coke’s hometown makes it the perfect market to expand our local operating model,” he added. “We feel privileged to be given the opportunity to serve this market. We also understand and accept the responsibility to perform consistently and provide reliable service to all customers.”

Nielsen said his team will follow the same locally focused operating model and strong community engagement in Atlanta that it follows in every community in the UNITED franchise territory – some of which it has served for more than 100 years. These include markets in east and northwest Georgia.

Coca-Cola bottling in Atlanta dates back to 1900, when The Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company was founded as an independent company during the early days of the franchise Coca-Cola system. The Coca-Cola Company’s initial ownership of the Atlanta market began in 1979 when it purchased the Atlanta bottler. Later in 1986 when Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) was established as a standalone public company to consolidate bottling groups across the U.S, the Atlanta market became part of CCE. In 2010, The Coca-Cola Company acquired CCE’s North American operations and formed Coca-Cola Refreshments (CCR), and the Atlanta market returned to company control. 

“Our refranchising of Atlanta to UNITED returns this important market to its independent roots,” Douglas said. “As was true a century ago, strong locally based relationships between Coca-Cola bottlers, customers and communities are the foundation on which the entire business grows.”