Report: Coke may buy US operations of big bottler

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NEW YORK - Coca-Cola Co. may buy the North American operations of its biggest bottler, a deal that echoes a move by rival PepsiCo in response to falling soft-drinks sales, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

If the partial acquisition of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. goes through, the rest of the bottler would remain independent and buy Coke bottling operations in Scandinavia and Germany, the newspaper reported. It already has operations in several European countries.

The exact value of the deal was uncertain but it is expected to be valued at more than $15 billion including equity and assumed debt, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the matter.

Shares of Coca-Cola Enterprises shot up in aftermarket trading Wednesday, gaining $5.48, or 29 percent, to $24.61.

The beverage industry has watched soda sales fall, prompting the big beverage makers to seek greater control over costs and how their drinks are distributed.

Coca-Cola Co. is the world's biggest beverage company. Its main rival, PepsiCo, announced in August it would buy its two biggest bottlers - Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. and PepsiAmericas Inc. - in a deal valued at $7.8 billion. PepsiCo has estimated it will save $400 million from buying the bottlers.

A Coca-Cola representative said the company had no comment on the report. A call placed late Wednesday to media representatives at Coca-Cola Enterprises was not answered.

John Sicher, editor of the Beverage Digest trade publication, said he did not know for certain if the deal was going to happen but that "if this were to be true, it makes a lot of sense."

Sicher said changes in the industry mean that the big players need more flexibility in their routes to markets in order to respond to customer demands.

Coca-Cola Co. is based in Atlanta, as is Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.


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