When a Tullahoma entrepreneur named Frank Tate first acquired the local Coca-Cola franchise bottling rights in 1906, Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma began producing and selling the drink developed in 1886 by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton. One hundred ten years later, Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma still produces the flagship brand and other popular bottled Coca-Cola soft drinks, as well as Dr Pepper.
CCBW of Tullahoma’s President & CEO, Jordan Ennis and Jordan’s team were recently interviewed by the Tullahoma News as part of an informative article that focused on the CCBW Tullahoma plant and its overall operations.
Local Production and Distribution – A Brief History
As many are aware, Coca-Cola bottling plants were set up around the world to supply the US/Allied troops during World War II. Even already-established plants, like Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma, expanded during that timeframe. By then, the franchise had been bought by Charles V. Holland and his brother J.W. In 1941, under second generation leader Jordan G. Ennis (Charles’ son-in-law for whom the current President & CEO is named), Bottling Works built its Wilson Avenue bottling plant to serve the men stationed at Camp Forrest.
Over the years following World War II, Coca-Cola franchise bottling plants continued to thrive as the Atlanta-based parent company innovated and expanded. The introduction of the nonreturnable plastic bottle, which made its debut in Rhode Island in 1975, gradually signaled an end for returnable glass bottles. The slow move away from glass became significant as technology changes in the 70s and 80s allowed the beverage industry to serve an increasingly global market.
As production changed in the 1980s, many small- and medium-sized Bottlers consolidated to form larger operations that served regional and national areas. These large operations also drove the industry’s changeover to plastic bottles. In turn, many remaining small bottlers ceased production entirely to escape consolidation. However – because their lines were set up for the returnable glass containers, many switched to a distribution-only business model. Tullahoma leveraged this trend by making strategic local acquisitions and maintaining beverage production.
By the time the plastic bottle was introduced, Bottling Works had already acquired the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of McMinnville (1971) and the Dr Pepper Company of Tullahoma (1973), spurring the company’s move to its current Highway 55 location. In the early 80s, the growing Tullahoma Bottling Works would also acquire Shelbyville’s Coca-Cola Bottling franchise.
As Vice President and COO Ken Skutnik shared that there were more than 1,000 Coca-Cola franchises at one time, Jordan pointed out that today “there are about 70 of us nationwide – three in the State of Tennessee.”
An Expanding Family-Owned Company
Over time, the family-owned company would adapt to industry changes, bottling the beverages it produces in plastic bottles. And among Tullahoma beverage suppliers it is unique, Ennis said, as it is the only one that still produces the soda it sells.
“My dad grew up in the business, starting here out of the military,” said Ennis. “His father said, ‘Why don’t you come back and try it out see if you like it?’ My dad told the same thing to me in 1999, ‘Why don’t you come back and try it out see if you like it?’ The rest is history.”
In addition to carbonated sodas, the Tullahoma plant also produces Dasani brand water. In fact, unless it’s sold in Memphis or Chattanooga, every 20 oz. bottle of Dasani purchased in Tennessee is produced in Tullahoma, using award-winning city water that’s run through a reverse osmosis filtration process and purified to 1 percent of the sediment of regular tap water.
“It’s so pure it doesn’t even conduct electricity,” said Ennis.
A Community Partner
Operations Manager Jeff Morgan, who has been with the company since its 1973 Dr Pepper acquisition, shared a compelling example of how Bottling Works of Tullahoma is a good economic and environmental steward and community partner.
Jeff explained how new plastic bottles have traditionally been rinsed with water, in order to remove dust and particulates. Now – to reduce water consumption on the production line, that rinse is performed with ionized air, which Morgan said “saved about 65 gallons of water a minute.”
If rinsing were performed continually over the course of two, 10-hour shifts, that would amount to 78,000 gallons of water saved each day. “It was a huge change,” he said.
A Successful Franchise
Over the last several decades, The Cola-Cola Company has continually expanded its offerings, adding juice, tea and energy drinks to its company profile; and though Bottling Works of Tullahoma does not produce all of those products locally, it distributes them along with the bottled beverages it does produce.
When the plant opened its initial location on Lincoln Street 110 years ago, it sold one product – the 6.5 glass bottle of Coke – in three counties. By 1941, the new Wilson Avenue plant employed 15 people. Today, Coca-Cola Bottling Works of Tullahoma employs more than 200 people to bottle and sell more than 500 different products and packages in 30 counties, operating from four locations in two states.
Of those four locations, only Tullahoma produces beverages. The remaining three locations – in Clarksville, Tennessee, and Elizabethtown and Owensboro, Kentucky – serve as sales and distribution warehouses.
On an annual basis, the company produces more than 2.5 million cases – or 45 million individual servings – of Coca-Cola product. Today, Ennis said, the Tullahoma operation is recognized by The Coca-Cola Company as one of the top performing Coca-Cola franchises in the country.
“The key to our success is having exceptional people working for you every day with a proud community supporting you,” said Ennis. “I have a superb team of managers and associates. It’s a great place to work and to build a career,” said Ennis. “We’re a large and successful company but we really want this place always to have that small, intimate ‘mom-and-pop’, family feel. We want everybody here to feel like they’re part of our Coca-Cola family.”
Jordan added, “I’m fourth generation – but we have many employees that are second and third generation. Their fathers and their grandfathers worked here. That’s pretty neat.”