Beginning in 1902, with one employee, a mule named “Bird” and a foot-powered bottling machine, Crawford Johnson Sr., our founder, purchased the exclusive franchise rights to bottle and distribute Coca-Cola in Birmingham, Alabama.
It was in 1974 when Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. was founded and our operations “united” under our new parent company. Although collectively under a new name, in changing times, we continued to stay true to our local business operating model – which is founded on local relationships, dedicated customer service, and strong community engagement, and has endured the test of time, even to this day, proving to be pillars of enduring relationships, partnerships and success.
Fast forward to March of 2013, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. produced and distributed over 750 Coca-Cola products across seven southeastern states from 18 local sales and distribution centers and three production facilities. At that time, as the second largest privately owned Coca-Cola company, we had 2,900 associates in our Coca-Cola UNITED family.
In April of 2013, we, along with five other major U.S. bottling companies, announced our agreement in principle with The Coca-Cola Company to take the next step in a stronger U.S. business model through the acquisition of new and/or expanded Coca-Cola territories contiguous with our current franchise footprint.
Resulting from the implementation of the “21 Century Beverage Model Partnership”, the new franchise business model, would be a stronger, more agile, modern, customer-focused partnership – unique to the United States. Through the acquisition of multiple territories, the geographical alignment would create a more rational and contiguous operating territory; allowing each bottler to better service local customers and provide more efficient execution in the production, sale and distribution of our refreshing portfolio of brands.
The sheer magnitude of such an endeavor was an unprecedented occurrence in the history of our company, as well as in the history of “Coca-Cola” in the United States, and in March of 2014, we began our journey with the acquisition of first Coca-Cola territory, Oxford Coca-Cola, and concluded with the final acquisition in October, 2017.
Over the course of four years, Coca-Cola UNITED has successfully acquired more than 40 additional facilities and territories, as well as transitioned more than 7,000 new associates and about 100,000 customers into our UNITED family.
To sustain our local business operating model and meet our high standards, we increased our workforce by approximately 10 to 15 percent in the markets acquired. In addition, almost $300 million in capital investments have been made to build new, or improve existing, facilities for our associates, as well as add to the fleet and upgrade equipment in an effort to better serve customers.
UNITED has also added close to 100 positions in Birmingham within its Customer Solutions Center and Corporate Services Division to support the growth in its field operations and customer engagement.
“What our Coca-Cola UNITED team has achieved in the past four years is nothing short of amazing, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration and partnership we have with our colleagues from Coca-Cola North America,” said Claude Nielsen, executive chairman of Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED. ”UNITED has more than tripled in size since 2014, and we’ve grown from fewer than 3,000 associates to an organization of almost 10,000 associates, serving more than 150,000 customers throughout our seven states, and staying true to UNITED’s core values of Quality, Excellence, Integrity and Respect. This has truly been an epic transformation of our company.”
Today, our company, Coca-Cola UNITED – the largest privately held Coca-Cola bottler in North America and third largest in the U.S. — has approximately 10,000 associates, located in 54 sales and distribution centers and nine production facilities throughout seven southeastern states. Our business has more than tripled since 2014, when it had some 2,900 associates located in 18 sales centers and three production facilities. At that time, the company had some 50,000 customers. Today, it has more than 150,000 retail and on premise customers in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The beginnings of what is now the largest privately owned bottler in the United States …A story of entrepreneurial spirit, vision and diligence.
“Crawford, you’re fired.” Those words, started what is perhaps one of the most successful careers in the bottling industry.
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The product that has given the world its best-known taste was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886. Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a local pharmacist, produced the syrup for Coca-Cola, and carried a jug of the new product down the street to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where it was sampled, pronounced “excellent” and placed on sale for five cents a glass as a soda fountain drink. Carbonated water was teamed with the new syrup to produce a drink that was at once “Delicious and Refreshing,” a theme that continues to echo today wherever Coca-Cola is enjoyed.
The bottle was created in 1915 because we needed a way to differentiate Coca-Cola from imitators and would-be competitors in the soft drink business. Our [The Coca-Cola Company] brief to the designer was to
. . . develop a bottle that consumers would recognize in the dark or at the bottom of an icy cooler.
In 1894, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Joseph A. Biedenharn was so impressed by the growing demand for Coca-Cola at his soda fountain that he installed bottling machinery in the rear of his store and began to sell cases of Coca-Cola to farms and lumber camps up and down the Mississippi River. He was the first person to bottle delicious and refreshing Coca-Cola in single serve bottles and distribute to local consumers. In 1899, large scale bottling was made possible.
The Coca-Cola bottling system grew up with roots deeply planted in local communities. 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.