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Jobs warning after Coca-Cola distribution switch

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A decision by soft drinks company Coca-Cola to transfer the Bermuda distribution rights for its portfolio of beverages will lead to job losses, the general manager of John Barritt and Son Ltd warned yesterday.

Wholesale distributors Butterfield and Vallis is to take over distribution from Barritts, which first began bottling and selling Coca-Cola in Bermuda in 1927.

The changeover is to take effect on April 5.

Bruce Barritt said the loss of the distributorship represents “a significant portion of our case sales and our revenue” and will result in cuts to the company’s 65 staff, who were told of Coca-Cola’s new distribution plans at an early morning meeting on Monday.

He added: “We will have to right-size the company. We can’t sustain the level of staff we have now with the reduced case sales.”

Mr Barritt said the company “will try to find new lines of business to fill the void. It depends on sales. If we can find new lines to sell, we would hopefully not have to have as many redundancies.”

But he added: “We are going to keep going. We will continue to sell all the other beverages we carry.

“As I told our staff, it’s a loss but it’s not a death blow. John Barritt and Son will continue to sell beverages. Let the consumer decide, I guess.”

Mr Barritt said the decision to move the distributorship was made by Coca-Cola in early 2015, after the president of the company’s Latin Centre business unit, Alfredo Rivera, made a market visit to the island in 2014 and “didn’t like what he saw”.

The president cited six consecutive years of diminishing sales, complained that Barritts had too many non-Coke items in its portfolio, and was unhappy about the quality of its soda fountains, and its retail execution, Mr Barritt said.

He said he pointed out to Coke officials that the island had endured multiple years of a declining population as well as declines in GDP and container imports.

Barritts was given six months to address Coke’s concerns, but despite “valiantly trying to meet their criteria”, Mr Barritt said he received the unwelcome news in early 2015.

He added: “It has been a long journey between the time they made the decision, and its actual execution, and we tried our best to dissuade them from making the move.”

Mr Barritt said he was informed last October that Butterfield and Vallis were to become the on-island distributor of Coca-Cola products, which include Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite and Sprite Zero, Canada Dry ginger ale, Dr Pepper, Disani water, Vitamin water, Powerade and Smart water.

Even then, Mr Barritt said, he asked Coca-Cola officials in October: “Are you sure?”

The last four digits of Mr Barritt’s mobile phone number spell “Coke”.

But he said: “I don’t see me changing my cell number.”

Spencer Butterfield, president and chief executive officer at Butterfield and Vallis, said: “It is with great excitement that we announce, effective April 5, Butterfield & Vallis will become the distributor of Coca-Cola products in Bermuda.

“This opportunity to represent an iconic brand is one that we are extremely appreciative of and we are grateful that Coke identified us as their partner for the future.”

Mr Barritt added: “I wish them the best of luck. I know how challenging it is.”

A joint letter to the trade in Bermuda, signed by Mr Barritt and Mr Butterfield, said both company’s management teams “are focused on minimising the impact on employment and ensuring that there will be proper continuity of supply to the market”.

John Barritt and Son became the ninth overseas bottler of Coca-Cola in 1927, and since then has been the distributor of the soft drink on-island. It stopped bottling the beverage in 2011.

Big impact: job losses are expected as John Barritt and Son Ltd are replaced as the Bermuda distributor of Coca-Cola’s portfolio of beverages (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Big impact: job losses are expected as John Barritt and Son Ltd are replaced as the Bermuda distributor of Coca-Cola’s portfolio of beverages (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published January 20, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated January 19, 2021 at 7:13 pm)

Jobs warning after Coca-Cola distribution switch

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