• 61°

Hattiesburg plant to end production of Coke, focus on distribution

The Coca-Cola Co. will operate a distribution center in Hattiesburg, ending 102 years of bottling of the soft drink.

Brad Brian, vice president of the Mississippi Division of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Inc., said the last 2-liter, half-liter and 20-ounce bottles were produced this past week.

Hattiesburg Coca-Cola, which opened in 1906, will operate strictly as a distribution center, Brian said.

“I know it sounds negative, but it’s just another sign of the times,” Brian said Monday.

Production and bottling for the Gulf Coast Division of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Inc. — which covers six distribution centers in south Louisiana and south Mississippi — will now be located at a new facility in Baton Rouge, La.

The distributions hubs include Hattiesburg, Gulfport and McComb, as well as Baton Rouge, Lafayette, La., and Lake Charles, La.

The shutdown affected 42 employees at the 240,000-square-foot Hattiesburg plant. Brian said the company informed those workers of the impending consolidation about 18 months ago.

Brian said 140 employees remained in sales and distribution. That number could rise in the future.

“We’re going to modify some things, and after we do, we’re going to have to add people,” Brian said. “Down the road, we’re going to be adding routes, adding people, but that’s a year off or so.”

Brian said rising oil costs, which affected the price of plastic containers, played a role in the decision to halt production in Hattiesburg.

“The only way to combat that was with speed, faster (lines), so the decision was made to consolidate,” Brian said.