MILLEDGEVILLE — The Coca-Cola Company holds on to history. Southeast territories within the six-state Coca-Cola Bottling Company United region remain defined by wagon wheel franchises put together after the 1902 start in Birmingham, Ala.
Coca-Cola Company has always made sure the brand positively affected each community market. Until 1978, bottlers were required to bottle in the local market of operation.
The family of T.H. Clark founded Milledgeville Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1913. After 50 years of operations on N. Wayne St., the local bottler moved to its current location on U.S. Highway 22 by 1973.
Milledgeville Coca-Cola is celebrating 100 years in business this month.
United’s Piedmont Division Vice President Jerry Shumpert said the largest privately owned bottler in the nation was lucky to acquire the Milledgeville production facility in 1998.
“Because of that entire heritage that’s been built, Coca-Cola United just feels very fortunate to be a part of the Milledgeville market and be able to maintain a local presence here still,” Shumpert said. “We feel very good about being in Milledgeville and serving Baldwin and Hancock county.”
Milledgeville Coca-Cola lasted through countless community ups and downs. Sales Center manager Rick Harding said over 27 years he’s seen it all.
“I’ve seen the business and our products change. I’ve also seen Milledgeville change. Now, it’s getting more diversified,” Harding said.
Shumpert said Coke United carried only 25 carbonated or sparkling soft drink products 25 years ago. Now, that number stretches toward 600.
“The evolution of products has been unbelievable in our industry,” he said. “The consumer demands variety.”
Other improved cost to serve alterations like an easy-pallet delivery system that pre-pack customer product groups helps bottlers distribute more efficiently.
“We try to get the right sets to the right customer,” the Milledgeville manager said. “That’s an ongoing process for us.”