Photo: Gregg McGough
Coca-Cola Beverages Florida: ‘It's about the brand'
Troy Taylor is acquiring the rights to the sales, manufacturing and distribution of Coke products for most of Florida.
In the mid-1990s, Troy Taylor was working as part of a team of investment bankers advising Miami entrepreneur Carlos de la Cruz as he went about buying the bottling and distribution operations of Coca- Cola in Puerto Rico from Bacardi, Coke’s bottling franchisee there at the time. De la Cruz was an important client — he owned Anheuser-Busch distributor Eagle Brands in Miami, three south Florida car dealerships and other businesses. And the Puerto Rican franchise was a big prize.
One of the largest concentrations of Coca-Cola employees outside of Atlanta is in Tampa Bay, including some 124 at the Tampa Coke production facility, which is being acquired by Coca-Cola Beverages Florida. It operates seven days a week and manufactures 21 million cases a year of waters and carbonated beverages.
Taylor understood well that the sale of a Coke bottling franchise wasn’t an everyday transaction — “rarer than the sale of a major sports franchise,” he says.
Taylor had an additional incentive to help the deal succeed and to study it closely. As he confided to de la Cruz on a plane trip, he, too, had ambitions of becoming a Coke bottler.
De la Cruz’s reaction? “I was told I’d have to be very patient,” Taylor says.
For about 20 years, as it turned out.
Less than two years ago, Taylor founded Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, where he’s now chairman and CEO. Reginald Goins, an 18-plus year veteran of the Coca- Cola system, is the company’s president and COO.
By the end of 2017, the franchise will control the production, sales and distribution of Coca-Cola products — more than 750 beverages — in all of Florida east and south of the Tallahassee area. The company expects to have more than $1 billion in revenue and employ more than 5,000 workers at 16 sales and distribution centers and four bottling plants throughout the state — making it the fifth-largest independent U.S. bottler and the third-largest privately held bottler in the U.S. That level of revenue will place it among the top 55 largest privately owned firms in Florida.
Taylor’s company is the first new Coca- Cola bottler/distributor created from scratch in nearly 60 years — Coke has never owned all of its manufacturing and distribution facilities — and the second African- American-onwed bottler in the U.S.
Invented in 1886 by an Atlanta pharmacist who concocted a formula for a sweet syrup, Coca-Cola initially was sold only at soda fountains, which bought the syrup from the company and mixed it with carbonated water onsite.
In 1899, two Tennessee attorneys approached Asa Candler, who had acquired the formula from the pharmacist, about purchasing the rights to bottle the drink. In what has to rank as one of the most curious decisions in U.S. corporate history, Candler — believing Coke would always be a fountain drink — sold bottling rights for almost the entire U.S. to the men for $1.
The Tennessee lawyers promptly carved the U.S. into territories and began reselling bottling rights to local entrepreneurs, who manufactured Coke using syrup purchased from the parent company, bottled it and sold it to stores.
By 1920, there were more than 1,000 Coke bottlers in the U.S., and the proliferation served growth well — that year, sales of bottled Coke overtook fountain sales.
But as Coke’s popularity grew and the company added brands like Sprite and Tab, the parent company moved to get more control over the manufacturing and distribution of its beverages. In the 1970s, it began encouraging and funding the consolidation of local bottlers into larger businesses. And over time, a handful of large, independently owned distributors emerged, including Birmingham-based Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United; Swire Coca-Cola, now part of a Hong Kong-based conglomerate; and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, a publicly traded company based in Charlotte, N. C., that’s now the largest independent Coke bottler in the U.S.
By the 1980s, however, bottling rights for most of the U.S. still remained in the hands of smaller bottlers like the Aide family in Tarpon Springs, which had owned a Coke bottling plant and a distributorship since 1916.
To push consolidation further, Coca-Cola began buying up those operations, eventually bundling them into a separate, publicly traded corporation called Coca-Cola Enterprises, which became the largest independent Coca-Cola bottler. The Aides, one of 58 independent Coke distributors in Florida in 1958, were the last in Florida to sell to CCE, holding out until 2001.
Coca-Cola Enterprises streamlined the manufacturing and distribution process to a degree but sometimes lost touch with local markets. One example: If the local Coca-Cola Enterprises-owned distributor in Tampa wanted marketing money to sponsor an event like the annual Strawberry Festival in Plant City, he had to get approval from a CCE executive in Atlanta. That executive might not realize the importance of that particular marketing opportunity. Sometimes, delays and bad decisions hurt relationships between local distributors and local vendors — and sales.