Coca-Cola Co. buys Sanford soft drink operation

Feb. 06, 2014 @ 11:22 AM

The Coca-Cola bottling plant on Hawkins Avenue has been purchased from a private holding company by the Coca-Cola Co. itself.

Oddly enough, it’s the first time in the bottling plant’s 108 years in Sanford that it has actually been owned by the company whose products it bottles and distributes to various customers in Lee, Chatham, Harnett and Moore counties.

The price of the transaction, which closed last Friday, was not publicly available and would not be disclosed, a Coca-Cola spokesman said. In that transaction, Coke bought the Sanford plant and another bottling plant in Virginia from Arbor Investments, a Chicago-based private equity firm that bought the local plant from Charles Ingram in 2008.

Ingram’s grandfather, J.R. Ingram Sr., for whom the local elementary school is named, started the plant in 1907, reportedly delivering bottles of the relatively new soft drink to folks around town on his horse-drawn cart with his three employees.

Now, the plant employs 26 people and works with a host of trucks with significantly more than one horsepower, delivering the world’s most popular soda and the dozens of other drink brands the company owns or licenses — including Sprite, Powerade, Minutemaid, Fresca and bottled water companies Dannon, Dasani and Evian — to vending machines, restaurants, grocery stores and other retailers in the local region.

Curtis Etherly Jr., public affairs director for Coca-Cola in the Mid-Atlantic region, said despite the new ownership, no changes are currently planned for the day-to-day operations of the plant and its relationship with its various customers. There are also no plans for layoffs or hiring, he said.

“As we continue to move through the process, we’re definitely taking a full look at the scope of our operations,” Etherly said. “But we do not anticipate any changes at this time.”

Coke has also partnered with local schools and groups for a long time and will continue to be active in the community, he said. Some of the groups that he said have benefited from the bottling plant’s outreach are the Boys and Girls Club of Sanford-Lee County and Temple Theatre.

Temple Theatre, in fact, wouldn’t exist if not for Coke money. It was built in 1925 by J.R. Ingram Sr. to show movies and Vaudeville acts but closed its doors in the 1960s. When a group of locals wanted to resurrect the theater in the 1980s, the Ingram family donated the building — and Temple Theatre is now arguably the largest tourist attraction in Lee County.

Charles Ingram said he does indeed hope Coke stays involved in the community and that the workers are looked after. Although he hasn’t worked there for the past five years, he said he still knows a lot of the employees because many of them are longtime workers. And he would know, having started working at the plant part-time in high school in 1955 and then joining the family business full-time in 1963.

“They’re some mighty good people and good employees, and I wish them the best,” he said.

The plant’s owner in between the Ingram family and Coke, Arbor Investments, didn’t go into detail as to why it sold the bottling plants in Sanford and Virginia. John Adams, an operating partner with Arbor who worked for Coca-Cola 23 years before joining the equity firm, simply said it was a good business decision.

“We think that the time is right to transition the business to The Coca-Cola Company,” Adams is quoted as saying in a press release from Coke. “We believe this is the right action to ensure the continued success of Coca-Cola in both Virginia and North Carolina.”

Another company that was not included in the sale, Triangle Vending, works out of the Hawkins Avenue plant distributing snacks and other food. It was also founded by the Ingram family and was sold to Wilson-based First Choice Food Service at the same time the bottling plant was sold to Arbor in 2008.