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One Small Idea: How Coca-Cola Became an Aussie Phenomenon

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Like most amazing stories, it started with a small idea. A delicious and refreshing idea, as described by Coca-Cola inventor Dr John Stith Pemberton in his first advertising campaign.

The year was 1886, and Dr Pemberton, a chemist from Atlanta, USA, needed to test the theory. With jug in hand, he walked down the street from his premises to Jacob’s Pharmacy where staff tasted the syrup and soda mix. It went on sale for five cents a glass.

Dr Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, also had an idea. He thought two ‘C’s would look good on a label, and came up with the new product’s name. He handwrote it on a label, and with a stroke of the pen created an icon that would last more than a hundred years.

Early Days in Australia

Fast forward to 1917, and an accountant in Perth sought the rights to produce Coca-Cola in Australia.

But it wasn’t until 21 years later, in 1937, that The Coca-Cola Company sent a team to Australia to set up a production facility. The first bottle rolled off the line in a small building on the corner of Crescent and Dowling Streets in Waterloo, Sydney. It all rested on the shoulders of just ten staff and a fleet of four trucks.

The early days for Coca-Cola in Australia were not easy. The capital city markets were small by international standards, and geographically separated.

It was also an unknown product, initially sold to indifferent shopkeepers by the bottle – literally. A former Coca-Cola salesman from Adelaide, Bob Jemison, recalled vigorously persuading a shopkeeper to take a single bottle. The following week, he talked the shopkeeper into taking two bottles.

By 1939 plants were operating all across Australia – just in time for the outbreak of war. In 1943, a turning point arrived when President of The Coca-Cola Company, R. W. Woodruff decided to make Coca-Cola available to all US service men and women, wherever they were, whatever the cost. Australian plants supplied not only Americans but Australian service men and women as well, from urban bases to ‘jungle units’ stationed in the Pacific theatre.

During the war the small Coca-Cola plant in Brisbane became the focus of this operation, with manufacturing often running 24 hours a day to service the United States South Pacific headquarters, also located in Brisbane.

Post World War Two

By 1950 the post-war economy had stabilised, and The Coca-Cola Company began to grant franchises across Australia. At one stage, Coca-Cola was bottled in 30 different locations throughout Australia from small, single-town bottler serviced country towns such as Inverell and Cairns, to large conglomerate bottlers spanning regional areas. Ultimately these bottling companies and franchise territories where consolidated into the single territory held by Coca-Cola Amatil today.  

Innovation in computerised bottling systems, new delivery methods, and the introduction of high-speed packaging technology has helped grow the reach of Coca-Cola across the Australian market since the heady days of the 1950s.

Today

Today Coca-Cola Australia together with its bottling partner, Coca-Cola Amatil offer more than 240 products including regular and low kilojoule soft drinks as well as waters, sports drinks, energy drinks, teas and flavoured milk. Its leading brands include Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, Sprite, Powerade, Goulburn Valley and Pump to name a few.