STARKVILLE – The merger trend of recent years hasn’t escaped the soft drink industry, leaving only about 92 independent Coca-Cola bottlers left in the U.S. One is C.C. Clark Inc., the parent of the Clark group of corporations which evolved from a small Coca-Cola plant founded in West Point in 1906.
President Albert Clark said his company has contributed to the merger trend in the drink industry by buying smaller soft drink and beer distributors.
“We are presently in the middle of an acquisition,” Clark said. “Our long-range plan is to continue to leverage our business and acquire additional distributors. There are cost efficiencies to a large operation.”
Clark said that the 10 largest Coca-Cola distributors in the U.S. are responsible for 90% of the volume, leaving only 10% of the volume for the independent distributors. While the beer business is not yet as consolidated as the soft drink industry, Clark said that same consolidation trends are being seen in the beer industry.
“The beer business is going to consolidate, also, but it is just in beginning stages,” Clark said. “There are still a lot of beer distributors in the world.”
C.C. Clark, which is a holding company, has Coors and Miller beer distributorships in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana. The company has Coca-Cola franchises in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Indiana. It also has vending and spring water interests in Mississippi and Georgia.
The company had its beginnings at the turn of the century when Carsie C. Clark, a native of Calloway, Ky, began bottling soda water in the rear of a drug store in Martin, Tenn. He first tasted Coca-Cola while traveling on a train, and was immediately hooked. He traveled to Atlanta to secure a franchise. Clark and company co-founder A.K. Weaver began bottling in Corinth in 1903, and in 1906 Clark moved to West Point where he founded West Point Coca-Cola Bottling company.
Many members of the Clark family hold key management positions in the Clark family of companies that includes more than 700 employees and sales of $118 million for 1998. There are 23 stockholders in the family corporation that now has had four generations of family members involved in the company’s operations.
Clark said that the industry has changed and become more competitive. Soft drink prices are comparable to the levels seen 30 years ago while costs have gone up dramatically.
“Coca-Cola costs less per ounce than it did 30 years ago,” Clark said. “That is the margin squeeze everyone is experiencing, and the reason why a number of people have gotten out of the business. It takes a larger company now to be able to operate on that margin.”
C.C. Clark is involved in cooperative buying with other buyers that allows the company to buy sweeteners, aluminum and other supplies at the best possible price. The company is also part owner of Gulf States Canners, a Clinton-based facility which does canning for bottlers in a four-state area. Gulf States Canners cans about 23 million cases per year.
Gulf States Canners, which has 90 employees and sales of $103 million in 1998, is also on the list of the top 100 private companies in Mississippi, ranking number 30 in 1998.
“Those type of joint ventures reduce costs,” Clark said.
The customers for soft drinks has changed somewhat over the years. Now large grocery store chains sell most of the product, followed by convenience stores.
Clark said that per capita consumption of beer is fairly flat, but the more popular brands are seeing a reasonable increase each year. The Budweiser, Coors and Millers of the industry are growing.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.