1938 Coca-Cola first bottled in Australia

Coca-Cola sign, Kings Cross, Sydney. Image: Hamish Weir on Unsplash

Although it was invented in the USA, Coke has a long history in Australia. It was first imported in the early 1900s, probably in the form of a syrup to which soda water was added at the point of sale. Sales were insignificant. The first Australian bottling plant began production in 1938 and, by the following year, there were several plants around Australia. Sales were still slow as the drink was unfamiliar to most Australians.

World War II changed everything. The president of The Coca-Cola Company, R. W. Woodruff, decreed that his product should be available to every US serviceman or woman, no matter where they were. The US South Pacific headquarters was located in Brisbane and the Coca-Cola factory in that city became crucial to the fulfilment of this promise, running 24 hours a day.

In the post-war years, sales of Coke continued to grow and bottling franchises were initially granted to many soft-drink companies across Australia. These ranged from small neighbourhood soft drink manufacturers to larger entities. Coke became part of the landscape in Australia, with illuminated signs at key spots in our major cities – notably at St Kilda Junction in Melbourne and Kings Cross in Sydney. Coke’s American advertising agency even set up an office in Sydney to promote the drink to thirsty Aussies.

A Roy Morgan survey in 2015 showed that four of the five most popular soft drinks in Australia were cola flavoured, and three of those were Coca-Cola brands: Coca-Cola (consumed by 19% of Australians 14+ in an average seven days); Coca Cola Zero (8%) and Diet Coke (5%). The other cola brand in the Top Five was Pepsi Max, drunk by 7% of the population in any given seven days. In 2020, Canstar Blue reported that Coca-Cola was named as the favourite soft drink by 30 per cent of those they surveyed.

British Tobacco (Australia), later Amatil, purchased its first Coca-Cola bottling operation in 1964. Amatil continued to acquire bottling licences throughout Australia, eventually becoming the sole bottler in the country. In 1989 it became Coca-Cola Amatil when the Coca-Cola Company bought a majority share.

Ownership changed again in 2020, when the Australian company was acquired by the overseas entity, Coca-Cola European Partners to form Coca-Cola Europacific Partners. Shares in the new entity are now traded only on the  London Stock Exchange (LSE), Euronext Amsterdam (AEX), the Spanish Stock Exchanges (MADX) and the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations Exchange (NASDAQ) in the USA.

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