Coca-Cola takes $1.3 billion stake in Green Mountain

Wed Feb 5, 2014 9:54pm EST

Green Mountain Coffee single-serve K-Cups are pictured in New York, in this file photo from May 3, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

Green Mountain Coffee single-serve K-Cups are pictured in New York, in this file photo from May 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid/Files

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(Reuters) - Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc, maker of the popular Keurig one-cup coffee brewer, said on Wednesday the Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) had bought a 10 percent stake in it for $1.25 billion and would help launch Green Mountain's new cold drink machine planned for release as soon as October.

Shares of Green Mountain (GMCR.O) soared 42 percent to $114.85 in extended trading, while those of its likely new rival, SodaStream International Ltd (SODA.O), retreated 3.9 percent to $34.39.

Under their 10-year agreement, the companies will collaborate on the development and introduction of Coca-Cola products on Green Mountain's upcoming machine that will serve both carbonated and non-carbonated beverages, including soft drinks, tea and juice.

Green Mountain's Keurig machine popularized the use of pods - small packets containing everything from coffee, tea or hot chocolate powder - for easy, in-home, one-cup brewing of hot drinks. The company has sold more than 30 million Keurig machines around the world for use in homes, offices and other locations.

The deal will make Green Mountain the global exclusive partner for the production and sale of Coke's branded single-serve, pod-based cold beverages, the companies said.

Still, Green Mountain also retains the option to sign deals with other cold drink makers, President and Chief Executive Brian Kelley told Reuters.

That includes Coke rival PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N), which last year shot down rumors it planned to buy SodaStream. A spokesman for Pepsi declined comment for this article.

"We'll do deals with brands consumers love," said Kelley, who added that Green Mountain has coffee deals with most major chains, including Starbucks (SBUX.O) and Dunkin' Donuts

(DNKN.O).

"We are really excited to start with Coca-Cola," said Kelley, who came to Green Mountain from the world's largest soda maker, where he was viewed as a product-savvy executive with expertise in product and supply chain management.

Green Mountain's cold drink machine is scheduled to debut in fiscal 2015, which begins in October this year.

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said on the call that the deal would give his company access to new business opportunities. He added that it would enhance Coca-Cola's bottling system and that its bottlers would have a complimentary role.

"This gives Green Mountain a beverage partner with some hugely powerful global brands. For Coke, it gives them access to some really cool, new cutting-edge pod cold-beverage technology," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.

Sicher said soda sales in the United States have been in decline since 2005, while growth in pod-based coffee brewing has boomed.

Under the terms of the agreement, Coca-Cola will acquire roughly 16.7 million newly issued shares of Green Mountain. The new shares have been priced at $74.98, which represents the trailing 50-trading-day volume weighted average price as of market close.

Coca-Cola has the option to increase its minority stake up to 16 percent through open market purchases of Green Mountain common stock during the first 36 months, a spokesman for the Coca-Cola said.

The significant after-hours move in Green Mountain's stock appeared to be a classic short squeeze as traders who bet against the stock scrambled to cover their positions.

David Einhorn, who runs hedge fund Greenlight Capital Inc., was among investors with short positions in Green Mountain as of October 15. Greenlight's spokesman declined to comment to Reuters on Wednesday.

The most recent data from Nasdaq, which dates to January 15, had short interest in Green Mountain at about 25 percent of shares outstanding - about 37.6 million shares. That's lower than peak short interest in November 2012, when more than 51 million shares were being shorted.

The average consumer staples company has just 1.6 percent of shares held short, according to Thomson Reuters Starmine.

Green Mountain separately reported better-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday.

The Waterbury, Vermont-based company said net income rose 28 percent to $138.2 million, or 91 cents per share, for the fiscal first quarter ended December 28.

On an adjusted basis, the company earned 96 cents per share - 6 cents better than analysts on average had expected, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net sales rose almost percent to $1.39 billion.

Green Mountain also plans to launch a new hot drink brewing system this fall. Called Keurig 2.0, it will use both single-serve K-Cups and larger-sized K-Carafe packs that brew 28 ounces of coffee.

(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller in London and David Gaffen and Jennifer Ablan in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Ken Wills)

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