pounds 1.7bn float for Coke Beverages

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COCA-COLA's seemingly unstoppable wordwide expansion was given another boost yesterday when Coca-Cola Beverages (CCB), one of the world's largest bottlers of the ubiquitous fizzy drink, launched plans to come to the London Stock Exhange this summer.

It promises to be one of the largest flotations this year, with the group being valued at up to pounds 1.7bn.

The flotation marks latest shot to be fired in the war between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, one of the most bitter rivalries ever seen in corporate history.

CCB bottles Coca-Cola throughout Central and Eastern Europe and will be able to use the extra financial fire power associated with its listing to expand its market presence throughout the region.

CCB sold a staggering 561 million cases of Coca-Cola last year and in the 13 countries it serves. Neville Isdell, chairman and chief executive of CCB said he was confident of achieving double-digit sales growth over the next few years as Eastern Europeans adopt Western drinking habits.

The people of Ukraine consume an average 18 servings of Coca-Cola per person per year compared to the UK where we drink 118 servings or the US where the population guzzles more than one serving a day.

"Soft drinks is a wonderful market to be in. Everyone has a physiological need to consume two litres of liquid a day. All we have to do is persuade them to drink Coca-Cola," said Mr Isdell.

With 31 years in the Coca-Cola business, Mr Isdell certainly practices what he preaches. He drinks at least five cans of the fizzy drink every day. CCB also bottles Fanta and Sprite.

CCB is one of only 10 `anchor' bottlers used by the Atlanta based Coca- Cola Company, which actually produces the drink. The group plans to take a 50.1 per cent stake in CCB when it comes to the market.

CCB is coming to the market following a decision by Australian bottler Coca-Cola Amatil to demerge its European arm. San Miguel, the drinks group, is likely to sell a large part of its 25 per cent stake in the group.

CCB made an operating profit of pounds 47.8m last year on turnover of pounds 1.2m, although the group prefers to concentrate on the cash operating profit of pounds 118m it made last year which excludes interest, tax, depreciation and goodwill.