On Thursday, December 15, 2016, AmCham Belgium’s Antwerp Chapter organized a visit to the Coca-Cola Visitors Center and the adjoining Production Plant and Distribution Center in Wilrijk near Antwerp.
To start off our company visit, Jeroen Langerock, Director Public Affairs & Communications Belux, Coca-Cola Services, briefly introduced Coca-Cola and its presence in Belgium since the soft drink was first introduced in 1927 until now.
Many people may think of Coca-Cola as a global company, but it is very much a local company too. The Wilrijk plant and two other plants in Gent and Chaudfontaine produce 70% of the drinks Coca-Cola sells in Belgium and Luxembourg. In addition to the production and distribution facilities, Belgium also hosts Coca-Cola’s second largest R&D and innovation hub in the world. In total, the company employs over 2,500 people in Belgium, accounting for 27% of all jobs in the beverages industry.
While the Coca-Cola Company owns the brands and takes care of consumer marketing, the newly-created Coca-Cola European Partners, resulting from the merger of the three main bottling companies in Europe, is responsible for all production, distribution and sales in Belgium and contributes €1.6 billion to the Belgian economy each year. Coca-Cola is also more than just the brand which gave the company its name. In addition to the various Coca-Cola variations, Coca-Cola distributes many other brands, such as Fanta, Sprite, Chaudfontaine, Minute Maid, Aquarius, Monster, Chaqwa, Nestea, and Capri-Sun, throughout Belgium.
How It’s Made…
The tour of the facilities took participants through the entire production and distribution process, from mixing the beverages, to bottling and distribution, to recycling packaging materials.
Returned bottles, whether plastic or glass, are sterilized and reused. The plant aims to recycle most of the discarded materials. For example, the paper labels found on glass bottles are recycled to make cardboard which is used in planters around the Brussels Region to prevent weeds from growing. Glass bottles which no longer pass the quality check are recycled and used to produce new glass bottles.
The beverages are mixed using the famously secret concentrate, shipped in from Atlanta in the US, and ingredients, such as sugar and water, which are mostly locally sourced. Here, the tour highlighted again the local nature of this global brand. In total, Coca-Cola spends €322 million on ingredients, such as sugar beets and water, and packaging materials, such as PET bottles and pallets, sourced from Belgian companies every year.
Bottled, labeled and packaged, the drinks are finally ready for distribution throughout Belgium and Luxembourg. Smart systems help employees put the orders together for the various smaller and bigger clients. Coca-Cola has also implemented a smart transport plan which cuts kilometers off distribution routes and avoids empty rides as much as possible, to achieve a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.
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If you’re interested in hosting future company visits organized by AmCham Belgium, please contact our Events Manager, Dawn Smith.