Coca-Cola completes Canadian joint venture

Coke CanadaGlobal soft drinks giant The Coca-Cola Company has announced it has signed a non-binding Letter of Intent to acquire the company’s Canadian bottling and distribution business, Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada (CCRC).

The company said in a statement the Canadian businessman Larry Tanenbaum O.C. and Kansas City-based Heartland Coca-Cola Bottling Company president and CEO Junior Bridgeman agreed to a joint venture. Both bring a distinct set of skills and expertise to the partnership that will support the long-term growth and success of the Coca-Cola business in Canada.

“Coca-Cola has been refreshing Canadians for more than 120 years and it was important for us to find the right partners that understand our business and the Canadian market,” said Jim Dinkins, president of Coca-Cola North America. “Bridgeman was a proud customer of The Coca-Cola Company for more than 30 years before investing in our system as a bottler, demonstrating his passion for our business and our brands. When you combine that with Tanenbaum’s successful track record and deep Canadian roots, this is the perfect partnership to continue to build our business in Canada with a highly local approach.”

Coca-Cola said Tanenbaum’s business, The Kilmer Group, has a longstanding history of building successful businesses throughout Canada, in areas as diverse as sports and media, and real estate and infrastructure. Additionally, he serves as chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, Toronto Argonauts and the Air Canada Centre. He is also chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Basketball Association, and serves as a governor of the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer.

“As a lifelong fan of Coca-Cola, I am delighted to be joining the Coca-Cola system,” said Tanenbaum. “I have seen the company evolve over the years and know there is tremendous growth potential for The Coca-Cola Company’s broad range of brands in the Canadian market. There is already a strong foundation and I look forward to working alongside Junior to continue to build the business through great brands, strong local execution and exceptional customer service.”

Meanwhile, Bridgeman joined the Coke bottling system in 2017 with the formation of Heartland Coca-Cola, covering territories in Kansas, Missouri and Southern Illinois. Prior to this, Junior created and led one of the largest restaurant franchise operators in the United States, Manna Inc., based in Louisville, Ky. He also had a 12-year career as a professional basketball player in the NBA.

“Coca-Cola has been a big part of my life and I am excited for this opportunity to be part of the Canadian business,” said Bridgeman. “[We] are committed to building on the traditions of The Coca-Cola Company while leveraging our heritage of putting people first, serving our local communities, and refreshing Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”

“Looking to the future of Coca-Cola in Canada, we could not ask for better partners than Larry and Junior.  We already have a strong foundation with The Kilmer Group through its various holdings, and this new partnership will provide unique and unprecedented opportunities as we continue to accelerate the growth of our business,” added Shane Grant, business unit president of The Coca-Cola Company in Canada.

CCRC employs approximately 5,800 associates and operates five production facilities and over 50 sales and distribution centres. CCRC conducts business in all 10 provinces and three territories. The non-binding Letter of Intent initiates the final step to complete the refranchising of all of The Coca-Cola Company’s company-owned bottling operations in North America. In October 2017, the company announced the completion of refranchising in the United States.

Coca-Cola said the letter of intent is subject to the parties reaching definitive agreements. The parties are committed to working together to implement a smooth transition with minimal disruption for customers, consumers and system associates. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018.

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