This Industry King Builds a Bigger Moat

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What could Coca-Cola (NYS: KO) possibly do to better itself at this point? It sits comfortably on top of the food and beverage pyramid as the world's largest beverage company, is one of the 20 biggest U.S. companies by market cap, and just boosted third-quarter net income 8.1% over last year.

Apparently the company's not to content to rest on its laurels, though, as it continues to widen its economic moat and make it harder for competitors to play catch-up. In its most recent display of this, Coca-Cola announced plans to purchase Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Co. The move would bring the fifth-largest independent Coca-Cola bottler in the U.S. under the company's wing, and give Coca-Cola more control when dealing with retailers and supply chain management.

Not the first rodeo
This move follows on last year's decision to acquire another bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, in a deal valued at $12.3 billion. Coca-Cola estimates the cost savings from this move to amount to $350 million over four years. These cost savings may seem paltry when compared to the $9.5 billion in debt the company had to assume to seal the deal, but it is important to note that Coca-Cola gains intrinsic benefits from this move as well, like more flexibility with retailers and quicker reaction with distribution to suit customers' preferences. Also, though those savings will take a long time to exceed the debt taken on by Coca-Cola, it's not as if these guys are going anywhere sometime soon, so it's important to view these decisions through a long-term lens.

The choice to consolidate bottlers under the manufacturer's banner isn't new to the industry. In 2009, PepsiCo (NYS: PEP) made waves with its $7.8 billion acquisition of Pepsi Bottling Group and PepsiAmericas. PepsiCo also cited the same reasons of operational efficiencies and speed to market as the impetus for the acquisition.

I don't see how this decision can be anything other than beneficial in the long term. We recently had the CEO of Honest Tea visit Fool HQ, and he discussed how his own odyssey with Coca-Cola showed him that if you want to grow your distribution in the beverage industry, you really have to play ball with one of these firmly entrenched players -- it's just too capital-intensive to go about it any other way. So, not only will Coca-Cola help its own distribution, it is cementing its position as a gatekeeper when other beverage companies want to grow their distribution.

Foolish takeaway
Many fools have already discussed the investment merits of Coca-Cola, so I may sound like a broken record here, but these guys are just too good to draw any other conclusion besides "buy me." I'm not the only one who thinks so; a certain Oracle of Omaha has owned shares of Coca-Cola for years, and continues to be bullish on their future. Coca-Cola agrees as well, and has been buying back its own shares at a steady clip, now planning to buy up to $3 billion of its shares by the end of 2011, up from its previous goal of $2.5 billion. This latest acquisition may be a drop in the bucket in terms of immediate impact, but it shows Coca-Cola's constant devotion to becoming bigger and better, even if it's already the biggest and best.

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to share your comments in the section below. Also, don't forget to add Coca-Cola to your watch list to see whether Buffett is right about his prediction that Coca-Cola will double its dividend over the next decade.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Austin Smith owns no shares of the companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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