Coca-Cola cutting 500 jobs in Atlanta as its global workforce shrinks

Some local employees learned this week their jobs are among those being axed

Coca-Cola is cutting about 500 jobs in metro Atlanta — nearly 10% of its local workforce — and eliminating others around the world, the company said Thursday.

The Atlanta-based beverage giant is letting go of about 2,200 employees around the globe, 1,200 of them among its U.S. workforce of 10,400 people.

The slimming down isn’t a big surprise after Coca-Cola announced in late August it was planning voluntary and forced job cuts. Most of the voluntary separations locally have already taken place and are included in the 500 job cuts.

But it highlights Coca-Cola’s continued challenges after more consumers began scaling back on sodas and other sweetened drinks in recent years. Those struggles have been exacerbated by the pandemic as fewer people visit restaurants, triggering some of the worst financial results in the company’s 134-year history.

News of the latest round of cuts also came as a report Thursday showed that Georgia’s jobless rate rose 1.2 percentage points to 5.7% in November, the latest evidence that a new surge in coronavirus cases is weighing on the economy despite the promise of vaccines.

This week Coca-Cola began telling other employees in Atlanta that their jobs are being eliminated as part of the 500 local job cuts, though they will be allowed to apply for open positions.

A Coca-Cola spokesperson declined to disclose how many of the reductions are voluntary or involuntary, or what kinds of job will be most affected.

Over the summer, the company said it had offered voluntary separation packages to 4,000 people in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico — nearly 40% of its workforce in those areas. It declined to say how many received the offers in Georgia or how many accepted.

Coca-Cola had about 4,800 employees in metro Atlanta at the end of 2019. Most have worked remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, turning the company’s global headquarters on North Avenue into a virtual ghost town.

Coca-Cola has said it was making the reductions as part of a major reorganization aimed at growing the business, but the pandemic accelerated its moves. The company normally derives about half its sales from public venues such as restaurants, movie theaters and sports stadiums, many of which have been shuttered or seen a big drop in traffic.

When the reorganization was announced in August, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Quincey said the company “must operate differently to emerge stronger.”

More recently Coca-Cola reported improvements, though its revenues and operating income were still lower than in comparable periods last year.

Many Georgia companies have been hammered by the pandemic, including Delta Air Lines, which has seen travel demand plunge. But others have done far better, including Sandy Springs-based UPS, which benefited from a dramatic increase in deliveries tied to e-commerce.

The latest job cuts are big for Coca-Cola, but not the largest it’s made. In 2000, the company eliminated about 5,200 jobs, more than a third of them in metro Atlanta. In 2003, it dropped 1,000, half locally. There were cuts in other years, including about 1,800 in 2015, nearly a third in Atlanta. And another 1,200 were eliminated over 2017 and 2018, many of them local.

The company responded to flattened interest in sodas by selling drinks in smaller packages and launching new products. It has delved into areas like milk, coffee and even alcohol, in addition to its juice, sports drink and bottled water offerings, even as it tries to more quickly shed drinks that struggle.

In October, Coca-Cola announced it was dropping half its drink brands, most of them sold outside the United States. They accounted for only about 1% of the company’s profits. Among those being dropped: Tab, the company’s original diet soft drink.