Metro Atlanta to lose a Fortune 500 headquarters

CCE chief exec John Brock will keep the post with the merged company. But the fate of CCE's Cobb headquarters is unclear.
CCE chief exec John Brock will keep the post with the merged company. But the fate of CCE's Cobb headquarters is unclear.

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

Cobb-based CCE merging into Britain-based bottling giant.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, a major Coca-Cola bottler in Europe since shedding its North American operations five years ago, is merging with two other European bottlers to form a new entity based in Britain.

The move, announced Thursday, means CCE will no longer be a standalone Atlanta-based company, although what that means for the 150 employees at its longtime headquarters in Cobb County was not immediately clear. A spokesman said an “integration team” is being formed to decide such matters.

CCE’s chief executive, John Brock, will keep that job with the merged operation but the announcement did not say if his office will relocate to the new British headquarters.

CCE’s merger comes five years after Coca-Cola bought the North American operations of its longtime partner for more than $12 billion in a move to retool bottling operations that package and distribute Coke products in its core markets.

That left CCE with operations in eight countries in western and northern Europe. It employs about 11,000 people overall and remains a Fortune 500 company at No. 368 for 2015.

The merger joins CCE with Spanish bottler Coca-Cola Iberian Partners and German bottler Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke. They will form Coca-Cola European Partners, which the announcement said will be the world’s biggest independent Coke bottler with $12.6 billion in annual revenue.

Together they will serve 13 western European nations.

CCE shareholders will receive one share of Coca-Cola European Partners stock and a one-time cash payment of $14.50 a share. CCE will own 48 percent of the new company while Coke will own 18 percent.

“We are all very comfortable with the way the ownership structure of this entity is emerging,” Brock said during a conference call Thursday.

CCE shares had been boosted by recent talk of the merger and added another 3 percent Thursday, to $53.39.

Coca-Cola, which is heavily involved with bottlers and had owned the German company, said the deal is part of a worldwide effort to make the beverage giant’s network more nimble to keep up with consumer tastes and habits.

“We continue to adapt our business model to innovate, invest and grow along with the changing demands of the marketplace,” Coke CEO Muhtar Kent said in a statement.

Coke’s bottling system worldwide has been consolidating. Consolidations in Africa announced last November followed consolidations in Japan in 2013. Consolidations reduced the number of bottlers in Germany from eight to one in 2007 and in Spain from eight to one in 2013.

Coke itself, which has seen volume for carbonated drinks — the company’s bread and butter — slump since their peak in the 1990s, is spending more on marketing, offering a wider variety of packaging for drinks, and increasing prices.

The effort is showing signs of success globally. Atlanta-based Coke’s second quarter profit rose to $3.11 billion from $2.6 billion a year earlier. Coke’s Europe unit, which has struggled over the past few years, ended the second quarter with overall volume up 1 percent and flat for the year.

Profit for CCE, however, fell 11 percent in the second quarter, and sales tumbled 17.5 percent from a year ago, the company reported.

The deal is expected to close by the second quarter of 2016 pending CCE shareholder, regulatory and other approvals.