The Union Recorder

May 23, 2013

Milledgeville Coca-Cola 100 years strong

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

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.”

Milledgeville Coca-Cola’s employees continue making it through a difficult economic environment.

“We hope we can do our part by keeping people employed. We’ve been fortunate to be able to do that,” Shumpert said.

Area Coke employees cherish new and old relationships. Harding said most relish not being confined to a cubicle.

“They enjoy getting out in the community and performing their jobs in the streets,” Harding said.

The local Coca-Cola bottler sponsored a customer appreciation reception at the Milledgeville Country Club Tuesday. While celebrating the century milestone, the event served as small thanks.

“This is a way of us telling the community and customers thanks for the support over the last 100 years,” Harding said.

The company value system of excellence, quality, integrity and respect are more than simplistic words to Coca-Cola United Chairman and CEO Claude Nielson and East Region president John Sherman. Harding said the upper leadership and employees believe in those values.

“That’s how we go in to business everyday trying to do the right thing,” the Milledgeville Coke manager said.

Being a vested community and civic partner puts action to those values. Shumpert said United’s rank as third largest Coca-Cola bottler in the nation boosts the company’s local growth engine stake.

The Milledgeville production facility’s reach is no different.

“We are here because of the community. It’s extremely important for us to be involved with not only Georgia College and Georgia Military College, but also all the civic groups to the extent we can be,” Shumpert said. “They are the reason we are here. We need to participate with them in order to give back to that community. It’s a very important part of our philosophy.”

Milledgeville Coca-Cola views its business as an economic stabilizer. Its 100-year resume provides commitment to the journey back up.

“We see some light at the end of the tunnel. We feel poised to be able to help the community build back some of that economic wealth that may have been lost,” Shumpert said.

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