Though The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of the Lehigh Valley plans to end soda production at its Bethlehem manufacturing facility in May, the operation will keep running on the distribution end. Job losses would be minimal, a spokeswoman said.
That’s according to a company spokeswoman who said the move is part of Coca-Cola’s plan to refranchise its territories throughout the U.S. and Canada by the end of the year.
ABARTA, a Pittsburgh-based company that owns the Lehigh Valley bottling plant, submitted a letter of intent to the company to acquire all Coca-Cola territories in Pennsylvania except Philadelphia.
ABARTA plans to restructure the Coca-Cola facilities in Pennsylvania and end production in the state. The action is a business restructuring, said Lauren Craig, senior manager of public affairs and communications for The Coca-Cola Co.-North America Group.
Though she declined to disclose a figure, she said the amount of jobs that will be eliminated at the Lehigh Valley plant would be minimal. ABARTA plans to continue operations at the Lehigh Valley facility, which has 124 employees. It is expected that many employees who work in production will shift to other positions, Craig said.
“As part of The Coca-Cola Co.’s larger North American refranchising plan, ABARTA Coca-Cola has reached letters of intent to acquire facilities in the state of Pennsylvania, with the exception of Philadelphia,” Craig said. “With this acquisition, ABARTA intends to restructure operations and plans to end production operations in the state. This will include production at the Lehigh Valley facility. ABARTA has indicated that they intend to continue to operate the distribution facility in the Lehigh Valley.”
The Coca-Cola Co. and its bottling partners are committed to continuing their longtime involvement with the Lehigh Valley community, Craig said. These changes only involve a restructuring of operations, she said.
Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the jobs that production workers were doing would probably be shifted to the shipping side.
“I knew there were a lot of changes in ABARTA; I was aware that there were going to be changes,” Iannelli said. “Was I surprised? No. It still causes some concern. They have assured us that their commitment to the Valley will remain. They will continue to be a good neighbor and employ as many people as possible. That’s what we’ve been told.”
ABARTA referred questions about the plan to Coca-Cola.
“We’ve been assured that the net effect on jobs should be minimal, with a likely shift in staffing toward the distribution side,” said Colin McElvoy, director of communications for Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., in a statement. “This is the result of ABARTA’s acquisition of the state territory, which should be complete in May.
"It is in no way a market trend or reflection of the regional economy. In fact, the Lehigh Valley economy continues to be strong, with a record-high GDP [gross domestic product] of $37 billion, and food and beverage processing in particular is one the region’s target industries and is thriving.”
A-Treat, which developer David Jaindl bought in 2015, is also produced at the site. It is unknown what the impact will be to that beverage brand. Jaindl was unavailable for comment.
The Coca-Cola name brand is an iconic one for the Valley, as it is part of the name of Allentown’s minor league baseball stadium, Coca-Cola Park.
Joe Brake, vice president and general manager of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of the Lehigh Valley, was unavailable for comment.
In 2015, he signed a contract to continue the company’s naming rights of the stadium at Coca-Cola Park through 2027.
ABARTA bought the Bethlehem bottling plant in 1963. It serves Northampton, Lehigh and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania, along with part of Warren County, N.J., according to ABARTA’s website.
The Lehigh Valley facility at 2150 Industrial Drive manufactures more than 90 products and stores more than 400 products for distribution.