Coke to acquire bottler's North American ops

NEW YORK — The Coca-Cola Co. plans to acquire the North American operations of its largest bottler in a move that mirrors similar deals by its main rival PepsiCo, as both try to gain more control of distribution to keep up with shoppers' changing tastes.

The deal calls for Coca-Cola to give up its 34 percent stake in Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., worth $3.4 billion, and assume $8.88 billion in debt.

Coca-Cola Enterprises has about 150 sales, administrative, warehouse and distribution employees in Wichita. It closed its nearly 60-year-old Wichita bottling plant at 3001 E. Harry last fall.

In a separate deal, Coca-Cola will sell its own Norwegian and Swedish bottling operations to Coca-Cola Enterprises for $822 million. Coca-Cola Enterprises also gets an option to buy Coca-Cola's 83 percent stake in its German bottling operations.

Coca-Cola Enterprises shareholders will get one share of a new Coca-Cola Enterprises company focused only on European bottling and will get a one-time $10-per-share payment. The company plans to issue debt to finance this payment and the European acquisition.

The deals are expected to close in the fourth quarter. Coca-Cola said it has halted share buybacks so far this fiscal year as a result of the deal and doesn't plan to buy back any more shares until the deal closes.

Following the deal, Coca-Cola will control about 90 percent of the bottling of its products in North America.

Coca-Cola said it expects cost savings of $350 million over four years and that the acquisition will add to earnings per share by 2012.