A Coca Cola Co. bottling subsidiary is increasing capacity by 30 percent, in part due to higher-than-expected sales of Coke's latest bottled-water product.
Western Container Corp. of Midland, Texas, will increase by 100,000 square feet its 190,000-square-foot PET preform injection molding facility in Hattiesburg, Miss. Construction started two weeks ago, and is expected to be complete by June 1, said President Robert Tremblay.
Tremblay and the Hattiesburg plant management suggest the increase was brought on by record shipments of Coke's Dasani-brand bottled water in the region.
"Dasani is a new product that didn't exist two years ago, and it's enjoying phenomenal growth," Tremblay said from the Texas headquarters. "Water generally is a PET-package beverage; as Dasani grows that'll be all incremental volume for us."
Tremblay said 8 percent of the 3.5 billion bottle shipments companywide have been for Dasani.
Hattiesburg plant officials reported doubled bottled-water sales from 1999-2000, and expect sales to double again this year. Last year, the plant shipped more than 600 million containers to Coke bottling companies in Mississippi and the surrounding Gulf states, according to local news reports.
Tremblay said capacity increases in Hattiesburg should boost the company's $207 million in sales by 14 percent.
The expansion will make way for two Husky injection molding systems and create floor space for additional blow molding lines as needed, Tremblay said. As many as 10 employees may be hired, Tremblay said.
Despite some criticism about overcapacity in PET beverage packaging, Tremblay said the need for expansion at the young plant signifies a wise investment.
"Two and a half years, and we're already finding it necessary to expand," he said. "We thought that plant would be good for five years in its original shape."
The new capacity also could mean increased production of recycled-content bottles, he said.
"We hope to see that we'll have a high level of recycled content at that plant," Tremblay said. "Our goal is to develop the ability to make half of our bottles with recycled content. Currently we're making one-fourth of our bottles with recycled content companywide."
Western Container also is completing a $5.5 million expansion at its facility in Big Spring, Texas. An additional blow molding line will increase capacity 40 percent, Tremblay said.
The production changes were announced at the same time that Coke agreed to limit its marketing of soft drinks in American public schools, and to include more healthful selections like juices and water in school vending machines.