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Left, John Schaefer, left Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper president and chief operating officer, and Ed Rice, chairman and CEO
Left, John Schaefer, left Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper president and chief operating officer, and Ed Rice, chairman and CEO

Pre-1980s Decade Award Finalist: Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co.

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For Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co., being part of an internationally known brand is refreshing.

“Happily, our name is widely recognized,” says Ed Rice, chairman and CEO. “At almost any outdoor event where people gather for fun … we’re there.”

Rice’s company has been family owned for 90 years. In 1920, his father purchased what was then called the Electric Bottling Co., which was founded in 1905. That company bottled fruit-flavored sodas, ginger ale and root beer, and a little brand called Coca-Cola was a small part of its business.

The company added the Dr Pepper franchise and brands in 1986.

Today, Coke is known worldwide, and the Rice family remains at the helm of the local bottler. Rice’s daughter, Sally Hargis, is vice president of corporate strategy for the company.

Springfield’s local Coke bottler is something of an anomaly these days, says John Schaefer, president and chief operating officer.

“Back in the ‘80s, there were (more than) 300 Coke bottlers in the United States. Now, that number is down in the 60s,” Schaefer says.

The bottler buys its trucks and vehicles locally and uses local plumbers and stainless steel companies.

The company provides more than 300 jobs, and many of its employees have worked at the soft-drink manufacturer for decades – one employee worked at Coke 45 years. Multiple members of a single family often work at the company, and at one time, five members of the same family were working there.

A news release announcing plant tours in celebration of 90 years of local family ownership notes that the Springfield company is one of only 23 local bottlers that still runs a production line. If the local bottler weren’t around, the Coke brand would still be available in the market, but the work force would be different, Hargis says.

“You wouldn’t have a manufacturing plant, and you wouldn’t have nearly as many jobs,” she adds.
She declined to disclose the company’s revenues.

Rice adds that probably 60 percent of the employment tied to distributing Coca-Cola products would go away if there were no local bottler.

Even after 90 years in the business, the Rice family continues to reinvest in the company. They are refurbishing the production facility and will have made $1 million in improvements there by year’s end, Rice says.

Through the years, Coke has supported Ozarks sports, including The Price Cutter Charity Championship, presented by Dr Pepper in the Ozarks.

“We have been involved with Lake Country Soccer from Day 1,” Hargis adds. “It’s been a good partnership for us.”

She notes that Rice has committed to Coke having a promotional presence at every local festival and to the Coke truck appearing in local parades.

The company’s community involvement isn’t just about promotion.

According to www.cocacolaozarks.com, the company supports several charitable organizations, including United Way of the Ozarks, American Cancer Society and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Schaefer says the company’s local ownership has made its community involvement possible, but Rice notes that quantifying that involvement can be difficult.

“It’s a cultural impact more than anything,” he says.

Rather than pointing to giant deals that propelled the company forward quickly, Coke’s local leaders describe the company’s community involvement as the result of many small moments.

“It’s a lot of different things – and very small things on occasion – but they add up,” Hargis says.
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